My Review of ‘The Zero Theorem’ (2013)
If you watch this movie, you may find yourself thinking, “Where have I seen this before?” The setting is the Future. (Or is it?) And the mood is Dystopian.
We open with a bald man awakening from a void-like dream in a dark, vaguely religious-looking building. “Another day,” he says, in a lackluster tone.
He dresses and emerges from the gloomy confines of his home into a shiny, bright, neon-lit version of Blade Runner.
The man’s name is Qohen (pronounced Cohen — and it took me a while to figure that out, because I kept thinking it was Colin) (played by Christopher Waltz) and, along with constantly referring to himself in the plural, he’s trying to qualify for disability. He’s also waiting for a certain phone call that allegedly will provide answers for him of some sort or other.
Basically, he’d prefer to work at home. In his pajamas. One can easily see why.
His workplace is hardly copacetic, given the numerous posters of “Management” (which, in this case, is a silhouette of Matt Damon) bearing the words: “Everything is Under Control” hung just about everywhere. Not to mention the rather ridiculous nature of his work.
And it helps not at all to have the world’s most annoyingly cheery supervisor to deal with. His name is Joby and he’s played to absolute perfection by David Thewlis.
So after failing to qualify as disabled, Qohen tries to meet Management at one of Joby’s parties. A rather surreal affair where Qohen first meets Bainsley, the movie’s sci-fi version of a femme fatale (played by Mélanie Thierry), although she can’t be all that fatale, since she saves him from choking on an olive.
Now and then, Management (in the form of Matt Damon in the flesh and wearing clothes that match the decor to the point where he appears to be a floating head) shows up, spits out a few cryptic words, and vanishes.
After all this, Qohen is allowed to work at home, but it is required to undergo therapy with an AI shrink (played awesomely by Tilda Swinson).
He has also been assigned a “special project” — he must solve the “Zero Theorem,” a “hush hush” endeavor (according to Joby) that involves working out a mathematical formula such that “0 must equal 100%”. Whatever that means. I suspect that one of Zeno’s paradoxes may throw a spanner in those works.
To sum it up, Qohen goes a bit nuts trying to handle the assignment. Management’s teenage son, Bob, makes occasional visits and gets many a snappy line. After Qohen (or Q, as Bob calls him, because … well, just because) smashes the works with a hammer, Bob fixes it back up.
Bob has all sorts of things to say to Qohen about his job, Bainsley (who’s actually a sex worker being paid by Management — or so Bob says), and the way Qohen is really just a cog caught in a big machine. One that won’t let people go — not easily, at any rate.
This film may (or may not) be the third in director Terry Gilliam’s satirical dystopian trilogy or “Orwellian triptych”, along with Brazil and 12 Monkeys. Apparently, Gilliam is ambivalent on this point.
Frankly, there’s enough existential angst, pondering over the meaning of it all, masses of dehumanizing machinery with long, corrugated conduits snaking from it, and other visual earmarks of Gilliam’s style to make me think Orwell would have approved.
I will say nothing of the end, except that it reminded me of Brazil, but just a bit less, um, paranoid?
For an international production with an American director, there’s something distinctly British about all this. The fact that the actors are British might explain this to an extent. But even so, while authors around the world have written dystopian sci-fi, the British seem to do it so cheerfully.
Great fun for anyone who enjoys dystopian sci-fi and/or Terry Gilliam.
Originally published at http://debbimacktoo.wordpress.com on November 7, 2019.