Film Review: The Zero Theorem

We all know the meaning of life is 42. But what’s the purpose? This is the question suffered by Qohen Leth in Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem.

This week, thanks to Den Of Geek, I was invited to a preview screening of the movie at the headquarters of Sony Europe in London. This is the second time Den Of Geek have offered me a free ticket, having invited me to watch The LEGO Movie a few weeks back at the headquarters of Warner Brothers. Before I go any further I should point out that this review is my own, and is not a request by Den Of Geek. Any opinions are my own and should not be linked with the opinions of Den Of Geek, Sony Europe or any other affiliate.

I would also like to mention the mind blowing bonus that the audience received; before the movie started our host asked us what we’d do if Terry Gilliam were to walk through the screening doors and say hello. Half of me was disappointed that such a carrot would be dangled in front us. And yet, like rubbernecking witnesses at a car crash, one by one people in front of me turned and gawked open-mouthed as the man himself bounded down the side aisle toward the screen. Mr Gilliam was pleasant enough to talk for a few minutes about the production of the film, the friendships with the cast and his perpetual want for being alone!

So thank you Terry Gilliam for adding that extra brilliance to what was simply a free ticket to a preview screening!

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Now, not everyone gets the visions that Terry Gilliam puts on-screen. Mostly outlandish. Definitely bizarre. Some within the grasp of steampunk. All of it very clever. Thankfully having spent a childhood watching “Time Bandits” over and over, and falling into philosophical discussions at 4am over the meaning of “Twelve Monkeys”, I was prepared to accept what was coming.

I wasn’t disappointed.

Stylistically, there is no mistake this is a Terry Gilliam film. Nobody else can portray a story like he can; clunky ridiculous fashion, day-glo neon, impressionable Governments, OTT commercialism (I particularly liked the advert on the building that tracked alongside the main character as he walked down the street, whilst all the time referring to everyone as “madam”).

Practical visuals aside, the concept delves deeper into human nature (as does every Terry Gilliam film). Almost to the point of forensics.  Life as we know it blown into ridiculous proportions, yet seemingly accepted as the norm by those not-so-far-future characters. People go to work, they consume and partake in the controlled world around them. They accept the systems in place, playing along like sheep. All the while the main character simply wants to know the purpose of life. With the whirlwind of other peoples lives around him that he blatantly wants no part of, he’s forced to follow along and step out into the big wide world (which he keeps securely hidden behind the several locks on his front door). With no option but to accept fate, we’re taken on a Gilliam-style roller coaster with an inevitable end.

Gilliam said before the screening that the film was meant to be set in the not-so-distant future, but by the time it came to Production and release the concept had slipped into what it’s actually like today.

It won’t be long before it’s a period drama!

And I totally get what he means. In one scene, a party is taking place with lots of people in attendance. But everyone’s wearing headphones and listening to their own music, staring at the computer tablet in front of them, and hardly interacting with anyone else in the room. And if they are interacting, it’s by video stream to other people at the party. From an outward point of view everyone is enjoying themselves at this party, yet everyone is actually only enjoying their own closed-off personal experience as opposed to the group experience.

The cast is great. Christopher Waltz as the troubled Qohen Leth, Melanie Thierry (you’ll seek out more of her films, I guarantee!) as the gorgeous Bainsley, David Thewlis (who played King Einon in DragonHeart!) as supervisor Joby, Matt Damon with his bit-part as Management, and the unforgettable Tilda Swinton as the fantastic Doctor Shrink-Rom.

If you’re a Terry Gilliam fan, you are in for one hell of a ride. If you’re not then sit back and absorb the double-meanings, enjoy the subtle hints of oppression, compare your own life and wellbeing to those of the main characters.

I guarantee every single person will relate to one of the characters. Whether you’re the drone in the fast-lane taking everything for granted, the adolescent kid who knows more about the world than their older siblings, the camouflaged management in control of every situation, the worker in diluted fear of that management, or Qohen who’s misused talent draws him fatefully toward his quest to find his answer.

The film will no doubt create debate. Its impressions and meanings can be interpreted a million different ways, leaving the viewer to ponder on just what happened exactly. With this in mind, I foresee The Zero Theorem becoming a typical Gilliam classic.


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