THE ZERO THEOREM
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Starring Christoph Waltz, Matt Damon, Lucas Hedges, Melanie Thierry, Tilda Swinton
Picture this: it's 2002 and a new Baz Luhrmann film has come out that's a cross between Twelve Monkeys, Fight Club, and Spice World. Well, that doesn't actually sound too bad. Unfortunately, The Zero Theorem is the wrong kind of mix of these movies from a different director. Terry Gilliam is known for his zany style and approach to story, but even he misses his mark here, providing a jumbled mess of a film with very few moments of brilliance.
Christoph Waltz stars as Qohen, a computer hacker in a distant, but near, future that is equal parts Romeo + Juliet and The Fifth Element. When he gets chosen to from home by Management, an elusive force rarely seen (and surprisingly played by Matt Damon), his own demise is before him, though he doesn't realize it. His job is simple: figure out the reason for human existence by using computer codes in a Minecraft-looking program. As he works he's constantly interrupted by the system reminding him of his daily tasks and checking in on his progress. He's also introduced to a schoolgirl vixen (Melanie Thierry) and a teenage boy (Lucas Hedges), both of whom help him while also breaking him down and bringing him back to an earthly reality. Tilda Swinton pops up as a digital therapist and other cameos by the likes of Ben Whishaw and Rupert Friend are small, but inviting. Waltz's Qohen is a strange person, referring to himself as "we" and "us" and not enjoying any type of human interaction. Despite his knack for being a recluse (while living in a post-apocalyptic, rundown monastery), he stills longs for physical and emotional bonding, as seen in his internet rendezvous that ultimately get him in trouble.
Gilliam's style is ever present. He loves to cleverly comment on where society is headed and what tomfoolery we've gotten ourselves into. But, where he succeeded in the aforementioned Twelve Monkeys, he misses here. It's almost as if his own style overtook his actual message. The editing and characters are frantic. The costumes and colors are straight out of an early boy band or Britney Spears music video. The story is all over the place. The only calm is in the performances. Waltz is always fun to watch. Swinton, like she does in Snowpiercer, is almost unrecognizable. And, Thierry and Hedges are both welcome newcomers. I'm willing to bet that there's more to this story underneath it all. Unfortunately, we're left having to assume we know what we're watching and having to just go along with it.
Cinema is sometimes about the unknown. Imagine David Lynch's films making sense. They'd probably be beyond boring. But, Gilliam's piece isn't shrouded in brilliant mystery like a Lynch film. It feels like it's teetering on the edge, but it ends up being a jumble of blocks in slowly, but surely, crumbling to bits. Post-apocalyptic/futuristic movies always tend to be imaginative, showcasing cool gadgets and innovative clothing and transportation. Here we're just given a lot of random stuff without purpose or meaning. Maybe the search for the reason of this film's existence could be Qohan's next task.
Runtime: 107 minutes