I’ve seen Terry Gilliam’s THE ZERO THEOREM, it was one of those moments where a dear friend says, “Hey, this publicist I met at SXSW wondered if you’d like to see Terry Gilliam’s THE ZERO THEOREM?” I believe something intelligent like, “FUCKING A!” came out of my mouth, because I tend to be a classy guy. I was told I’d be sent a Blu Ray, which got turned into a streaming on my computer, which had serious tech issues with the site they were using… and then… after about 4 hours of trying to see Terry Gilliam’s THE ZERO THEOREM… it worked.
In trying to get this to work, I saw the opening 5-8 minutes about a half dozen times, that’s where the file was always messing up. It was… excruciating.
Maddening because under no circumstances should anyone ever experience Terry Gilliam’s THE ZERO THEOREM in anything other than a pristine theatrical experience.
Once it started to work, I found myself watching compulsively three times in a row, finally stopping at 6am.
I spent the night with Terry Gilliam’s THE ZERO THEOREM and it blew my mind. Here is a masterful robust cinematic experience that will not easily be forgotten. What made it so compellingly rewatchable? The details and layers that Gilliam builds around Christoph Waltz’s Qohen Leth, or Q as he is known to the few human beings that actually make contact with him.
The film takes place in the future. The world is very much a Terry Gilliam future, riddled with biting satire streaming around the corners of buildings and in the sky above. I wouldn’t dare ruin a single discovery of this nightmarish possibility for us humans. You see Q is essentially the world’s greatest programmer… I think. You see, at the beginning of the film, Q works at a company that has its programmers in cubicals, strapped into seated stair-climbers all while cracking codes and formulas for things that the programmers have no concept of. They’re given incredibly difficult time frames to crack their assignments, they’re constantly interrupted by corporate tests and managers. It’s driving Christoph Waltz’s Q crazy. He’s calculated that he could get 3 times the work done at home, than if he came into work and he wants to bring it up with management.
Now… apparently in the future – we will be strapped to a desk staring at screen, processing information that a faceless corporation puts in front of us and given strict deadlines to turn in our results. There’s a never-ending supply of assignments. There’s no real time for distractions for Q, he has nothing in his life save his job… and the hopes of his phone call.
Waltz’s Q is clearly insane, but he has a very convenient insanity. He believes he’s going to get a call back that will give him the meaning of his life. I’ll leave the particulars of why and how he thinks that to the movie to tell you, but what it means is… everytime the phone rings, he jumps like an electroshocked monkey on a buzzer. Constantly disappointed that the call is never the call that he’s wanting.
Before I take a step further into talking around the amazing twists and turns that Terry has geared up for the world, let me just explain the sensation I was left with at the end of this film. By the time Gilliam pulls the plug on the film, I felt a swelling in my chest as pure love desperately was having me mark everything being fantastically satisfying. The ending informs the whole of what you’ve seen, but you’ll still find yourself with pesky, “I wonders.” You know, that feeling like you probably missed a lot, simply because as the story moves revelations make you reassess the scenes you’d seen prior.
THE ZERO THEOREM is Gilliam’s greatest work since BRAZIL – they’re similar in their satiric riffs upon the corporate universe and it’s Kafkian and Orwellian complexities. Both films present a future from the point in time that the films were conceived from. BRAZIL could not have imagined our digital revolution – and upon Gilliam reflecting about the digital lives so many of us lead… he’s created a film – where you could interpret what exactly the Zero Theorem is… what it does… and what we think it ultimately means.
At one level, the proof that the Zero Theorem is trying to prove is: 0=100%
The implications could change everything we’re told, or how we perceive every relationship Q has. Upon the second viewing, most of my beliefs were solidified – as I spotted tons of things I didn’t catch the first time, but upon the third showing… WOW.
Christoph Waltz. He has two supporting actor Oscars. This should be his Best Actor Oscar. It is an amazing performance. Just amazing. He’s not just a programmer or a hacker or the greatest puzzle solver in history – he’s a human being, a human being assigned an inhuman task. He locks himself away in his burnt out monastery that he calls home. Also living what is a monastic existence. When he has people in his life, they begin to shift the formula to his own existence. He’s being manipulated, watched and processed. He’s being primed for the singular goal of proving the Zero Theorem.
Along the way he must learn that everything is nothing and that nothing is everything, but… I’m convinced that beyond the talks regarding it possibly being the moment where the singularity is reached… it is also a film talking about the impossibility to create beauty in a corporatized micromanaged existence where pieces are delivered against high pressured deadlines and insane hoops. That only when you’ve found a complete absence of distractions could true creation come to allow for beauty to be birthed.
I know – it makes no sense and I’m babbling, but the film will make you babble deliriously. It’s hilariously wicked and beautiful. However, it tells a story that I think many of us can sympathize with. How many of us have jobs where we’re given an assignment, a deadline only to have other mini assignments that have to be delivered before the big project’s deadline? Essentially, that’s Waltz’s life. Sure he has private chats with the Queen of England, his only friend seems to be David Thewlis’ Joby, who is essentially his supervisor – an incredibly annoying and pushy man that’s oddly friendly and close to Q, but Q does not reciprocate. Early in the film, Joby invites Q over to his place for a party – (kinda have to see it to believe it) – where Management is going to be. Management is played to the surreal hilt by Matt Damon. He’s eccentric to an understated calm – and he’s a snazzy dresser! You’ve never seen Matt Damon like this in any movie he’s been in. The part is small, but he’s the man that rules the life of Waltz’s Q. He has cameras installed everywhere in his home, making sure he’s working, seeing how he’s living – and when Q starts to crack under the pressure of the Zero Theorem and his desire for his call… well, you’ll see.
Waltz’s Q comes in contact with Tilda Swinton via her Dr. Shrink-Rom – a virtual therapist, who interrupts Q constantly to completely ignore any of his real problems, so that he continues to work and stay working. Everyone knows he’s crazy, but he’s the only hope for cracking the Zero Theorem. Then you have Bainsley, she’s Thewlis’ Joby’s neighbor.
BAINSLEY. I fell madly in love with Melanie Thierry’s Bainsley. One – love the name. She’s a cool chick that likes the weird guy at the party. When Q informs her that she would just find him as profoundly disappointing as his previous relations, she tells him that’s the best thing she’s heard. Bainsley sees Q as an enigma or a mark or… what exactly? Having seen the film 3 times, that is also how many times I’ve changed my mind about her character. Waltz’s Q is so tremendous to watch on screen that it’s hard to give your mind over to focus on anyone but him, but every character is amazing when examined. Bainsley is beautiful. Stunning. And when she’s out to seduce Q, she gets hooked by his shyness. He’s damaged. When she hears about his problem, she works to make a connection. She informs him that sex is off limits because it’s just too dangerous, but she does sate pleasure in other forms. When we begin to get virtual with the characters it’s insane. But what is gold is Bainsley and Q’s last scene. SO MUCH GOING ON THERE.
Bainsley and Q… I love them. I love what she means to him and him to her. They’re both broken, abused by this world of theirs to a point where they’re both at that breaking point. Where life could change. Or could it?
The other major character is BOB. BOB is the son of MANAGEMENT – and he’s a programming / problem solving super genius. Bob is teamed up at a point with Q, after a breakdown. The truth is, nobody has ever had the stamina to solve the Zero Theorem, Q’s amazing – and you know, Gilliam’s ability to make programming visibly compelling and fun amazes me. But if you actually think about the visuals and the nightmarish complexity – you’d just lose it. Bob is a young teenager, not yet loosed upon the world. He’s being manipulated by his father to help get Q to the point he needs to be at to solve this maddening puzzle.
Christoph Waltz’s Qohen Leth is one of those characters that has joined in my mind not only with Gilliam’s directed Jonathan Pryce’s Sam Lowry… But Q is there with Chaplin’s Factory Worker in MODERN TIMES. There’s so much soul in Q. I was fiercely watching Waltz’s subtle ticks & quirks. He’s amazing to watch in this film. There’s a grace to him, he feels downtrodden, a cog in a greater machine of humanity serving cynical ends.
It is rare that I see a perfect complete masterpiece this early. THE ZERO THEOREM is headed to Venice, where it will absolutely capture the audience like nothing they’ve really quite seen before. And that version of CREEP… WOW.
THE ZERO THEOREM currently doesn’t have a distributor – so I can’t tell you when we’ll be seeing it in theaters. Only, my god I can’t wait to see this in a theater. I can’t wait to hear an audience react emotionally to this film. A movie that is a complete artistic realized vision that instantly engages your mind at every level. So satisfying.
This is one of those great scary looks at that possible future around that corner, Gilliam has given it his all, but the creatives that worked alongside him have done wonders on this film. George Fenton’s music… just spectacular. Nicola Percorini’s lensing is beautiful and haunting. The production design is a first timer. David Warner, he’s done great Art Direction on flicks like SWEENEY TODD & HUGO, but this is his Feature Debut as a full on Production Designer – and yes, please… more please. This film is a marvel to watch. Every single set has layers of design to it. What it once was, now is – and almost a secret side to the spaces. Everything serves the story adding atmosphere and tone. The story of Q will be something to discuss with friends that love great puzzle movies. What does it all mean? Does it mean anything at all? Ultimately though you’ll have a great time with the film because it has that wonderful Gilliam sense of humor to it.
I can’t think of a greater viewing pleasure I’ve had in a real long time than getting to discover ZERO THEOREM. It was strangely odd to be engaged with it on my glowy rectangle here upon my desk. I went into the movie completely blank and it stunned me. Honestly though… I just can’t wait to see this in a theater with an audience. The film is a great one. Just wait for the “Creep”… so great! Lastly… all of you, I envy your first view. I’ve done a fairly good job of avoiding the big spoilers. The film is a jaw-dropper not just for the visuals and the storytelling and the performances. It’s just so great to see Gilliam just destroy it. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been chomping at the bit to get to write about this film, because it’s all I really want to talk about these days. It’s a film that gives you great after glow, if you get my meaning. Waltz is just amazing. The performance of the year thus far. So great. I just hope to God it gets released untouched. There’s not a frame needing to be lost. IT IS PERFECT! So rare you can say that. Also… Once the film comes out – I can’t wait to really geek out more on the ending and what it all means to me. Right now, Annette Kellerman is the only person on the planet I can geek out with this one. Otherwise, I would think I’d hallucinated the film. It really is quite the dream.