Film Review: The Zero Theorem

Fear and Existentialism 2.Zero

Maybe, just as in looking out for all things yellow in HBO’s brilliance that is True Detective, I could be convincing myself that there is a definite subject de jour coming from the good folk who don’t spend their finite hours on this globe watching ‘talent’ shows on mainstream TV. Rather than consuming this equivalent of Soylent Brown (at least the product in the Charlton Heston movie had nutritional value), we have spirited creative vanguards, marching point into battle against the fifth column that is The Dross.

That doesn’t mean said bastions don’t sometimes stumble, trip and fall flat faced into a pile of their own creative mess. In their quest to pitch their flag of salvation atop Humanity Hill, mistakes have to be made, lessons to be learned, bruises to heal. Basically, if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not learning, just riding the slipstream of the Soylent Brown, a second hand skid marked existence of no real value at all, consuming a mind fill of TV carrion.

TheZero Theorem Film Review

Probably to the theme song of Rocky, Terry Gilliam is standing tall and dancing atop the steps once again, and back in the crusade for all things worth talking about, in particular, something small, like existentialism. There is no doubt about Gilliam’s ability to tackle such a subject having (in my opinion) created some of the finest, most creative, unique movies about, but there has also been some dead parrots along the way too.

‘The Zero Theorem’ (2013) is Terry’s return to luminous bright form. From the mesmerising opening shot of Qohen Leith (Christoph Waltz, excellent once again), in his most exposed purest human essence, naked, literally staring into the actual abyss, we have crossed into Gilliam’s near future world of London, where pop-tastic neon, and joyful colours distract the populace from their own humanity (or lack of), tablet device screens hypnotically attracting our stares, only to zap our brains dead like sugar chasing flies.

Qohen dutifully hamsters away at work feeling that it will bring meaning to his life, each keyboard stroke taking him one step further and further away from bringing any genuine meaning to his existence. For all his company loyalty, it’s only resulted in his mournful acceptance of ‘Another day, another day’, and constant home therapy. Added into that mind swill is the un-reciprocated hope of an actual phone call, which if received would be the answer to everything missing in his life, he just has to make sure he’s waiting by the phone, always.

Despite his efforts to instill structure and control (suppression) in his life, chaos reigns supreme and slowly ebbs into his order, I say ‘his’ but as Qohen always refers to himself in the plural ‘we’, he represents us, contemporary Man and our own potentially misguided choices in worship to consumerist gods. Even living in a church brings no nirvana.

Like yin and yang, the movie is both wonderfully complex and simple. Hugely dense in visual creativity and sharp dialogue, and everyone turning in really excellent performances as we follow Qohen on his trek to potential enlightenment, through highly idiosyncratic Gilliam experiences.

It’s a fantastically playful, beautiful looking, intelligent commentary on modern life and a warning of a potential vacuous future for us all, if indeed we aren’t already there. It can be equally mind blowing. I decided very quickly into the movie what I felt was going on, this brought my own meaning to the visual events before me and made it all the more enjoyable and rewarding. Basically, embrace the exquisite chaos, and it’ll all become serenely clear.

9/10

’The Zero Theorem’ is out now.

Hana Karlasen – English and Creative Writing graduate. Loves books, films, Mega Drive games and useless facts. Did you know that humans share about 50% of our DNA with a banana?

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