Netflix UK film review: The Zero Theorem
Ivan Radford | On 16, Jul 2014
Director: Terry Gilliam
Cast: Christoph Waltz, David Thewlis, Mélanie Thierry, Lucas Hedges
Watch The Zero Theorem online in the UK: Netflix UK / TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
What is The Zero Theorem? That’s the task assigned to Qohen Leth (Waltz), a reclusive programmer at ManCom. Surrounded by bright lights, giant adverts and wireless connections, Lohen lives in a switched-on dystopian future not far from our own (and, scarily, not that far from Blade Runner either). He can’t wait to disconnect himself from it all – but only so he can go home and wait by the phone for a call that will tell him the meaning of life.
So far, so Terry Gilliam. Things get even stranger when his boss (a camp David Thewlis, hilariously channeling both Michael Palin and Eric Idle) agrees to his request, leaving him isolated in his house – an abandoned church, complete with broken stained glass windows and mice. Soon enough, he’s waggling his joystick like a mad man, only stopping to hook up with a mysterious lady of the night (a disarming Mélanie Thierry). Wearing a bright red “virtual reality suit” that can only be described as a skintight Satanic windsock, they spend their nights sitting on a CGI beach, talking of love and running away to a space where management can’t see them.
Management, though, is always watching. Played by a fetching Matt Damon, he sits around in camouflage suits, blending into the colourful sets before intimidating the workers. How much is he controlling Qohen’s life? Does he know the answer to The Zero Theorem? And where does he get those clothes?
Flashes of Brazil and The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus permeate Gilliam’s absurd, charmingly tangible production: a gaudy, physical world that reflects off Qohen’s bald head like a shiny compilation album of the director’s best hits. And what a back catalogue to choose from. Waltz is deliriously intense as the unbalanced genius, caught between fantasy and frustration. Together with Thierry, he creates an engaging central romance that keeps you watching, even as Pat Rushin’s script starts to lose sight of its end goal.
It’s almost inevitable that the story should collapse in on itself; a black hole of ambition sucking in every idea Gilliam can throw at it. For every narrative dead end, though, lies a spot-on visual gag or stunning old-school visual effect – a reminder that this filmmaker has still got it. The answer to life, the universe and everything? Goodness knows. But if not finding out looks this good, ignorance is, at times, bliss. At the age of 72, Terry doesn’t crack The Zero Theorem – but he gets pretty darn close.
The Zero Theorem is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.