Terry Gilliam is a filmmaker who possesses what seems to be a truly unlimited imagination. His science fiction and fantasy films over the years have been the stuff of legends. The worlds he creates are vivid, weird and downright beautiful. The man has been dazzling audiences since the 1960s with his work with the comedy group “Monty Python” and with his bizarre yet gorgeous directorial efforts. His latest film The Zero Theorem continues in that vein of offbeat cinematic output and while it is a work full of the filmmaker’s signature quirks and unique style, it might detract casual moviegoers.
The Zero Theorem is considered by Gilliam to be the final entry in a dystopian satire trilogy which consists of 1985’s Brazil and 1995’s 12 Monkeys. The film centers on Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz), an eccentric computer programmer who yearns for a life where he can be free and not tied down by the Big Brother-ish “Management”. He soon develops the idea that it is up to him to find the meaning of life through a complex mathematical formula. Leth then spends most of the film trying to solve the equation while at the same time, dealing with Bainsley (Melanie Thierry), a wacky girl he met at a party and Bob (Lucas Hedges), the teenage son of “Management”’s head honcho, who wants to help Leth solve the mystery.
Like many of Gilliam’s films, The Zero Theorem is a kooky exercise in dystopian future storytelling. The technology presented in the film is very realistic and doesn’t seem too distant a future at all. Electronic tickers adorn the buildings and the clothing fashions are truly off-the-wall, making for a city style close to that of Tokyo (which was actually shot in Bucharest). Leth is detached from this world. He lives in darkness and rarely associates with other people. He is nervous, antisocial and slightly psychotic. He means well, however, and his interactions with Bainsley and Bob make for some very interesting (and humorous) scenes.
It should not come as a shock that Christoph Waltz is simply sublime in The Zero Theorem. With a shaved head and a character persona riddled with psychological imperfections, he has fully immersed himself in the role of Leth. A bevy of award nominations should be expected for the very talented Austrian actor. Young rising star Lucas Hedges should also expect acclaim for his strong role as Bob, the son of Leth’s boss who wants to see him succeed. He and Waltz work extremely well together and their chemistry is the film’s main highlight.
Over the years, Gilliam has utilized a variety of intriguing filmmaking techniques. His most widely-used is the tilted camera which creates strange angles and close-ups which accentuate a particular character’s odd persona. This also creates tension in some scenes and with an actor as intense as Waltz, this filmmaking method only enhances said intensity. There are also sequences in The Zero Theorem that make strong use of computer-generated imagery. In the film Leth and Bainsley share some virtual reality moments and the beach scenes they conjure up are just visually stunning. There are also amusing supporting turns from Tilda Swinton and Matt Damon. Basically, if you are into science fiction and love Christoph Waltz, then The Zero Theorem is a film certainly worthy of your attention.
The Zero Theorem will have a limited theatrical release on September 19th, 2014