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In "The Zero Theorem", the latest film by some guy named Terry Gilliam, Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) is a neurotic, quasi-agoraphobic touch-freak stuck in a dead-end IT job in a grimly colorful future metropolis. His supervisor Joby (David Thewlis) encourages him to get out and party once in a while, but Qohen simply wants to be left alone at home while he waits for the phone call that will give his life (and the universe) some semblance of meaning. After a seemingly disastrous encounter with the big boss at Joby's latest party, Management (Matt Damon) agrees to give Qohen a shot at cracking the Zero Theorem, a formula designed to prove that zero equals 100 per cent. He takes the job since he believes it will allow him to work from home without interruptions, but distractions unfortunately abound, from hot sex worker Bainsley (Melanie Thierry), to young computer savant Bob (Lucas Hedges), and in the midst of all the chaos Qohen must choose between waiting for a life filled with purpose, or simply having a life.

I'm a rabid fan of Terry Gilliam and his work, and I'm definitely not alone. "Time Bandits", "Baron Munchausen" "Twelve Monkeys" and "Brazil" are brilliant high water marks in one of the most unique careers in film history, and even if you're the kind of person who doesn't often throw around the word 'genius', you can probably concede that the man has fully earned his reputation as one of cinema's greatest mad scientists. How you approach, and perceive, his latest work probably has a lot to do with how enamored you are with his body of work as a whole. Gilliam's accomplishments have reached such heights that many of his fans have stuck with him through the rough patches, confident that he'll get his mojo back any minute now and blow our minds once more. After all, he's never bottomed out like many of our other director heroes like Carpenter, Romero, or Argento, and even his least appealing films like "Tideland" and "The Brothers Grimm" are still interesting and even fascinating failures. But Gilliam is a tough sell to the money people, and his numerous (and legendary) troubles with financing and production woes serve as depressing proof that the era of the big-budget, big-scale auteur is probably over. So instead of trying to get another massive epic off the ground, Gilliam and his superb cast and crew have made an in-betweener, big in some places, really small in others, and while it never quite reaches the comedic or visually thrilling heights of his best films, it's nonetheless encouraging to see him still fighting the good fight.

So let's just get this out of the way: "Zero Theorem" probably won't fully satisfy anyone expecting another "Brazil". The two films seem to take place in a shared universe, and there are echoes of his 1985 masterpiece in the tech, the circus-like tone, and in many aspects of the plot itself, but the scope is much smaller this time around, and more than half of the story takes place in Qohen's home. There's something oddly unsettling about seeing a Gilliam film spend so much time in one place, like you can almost feel the director pacing the bars of a cage, but the screenplay by Pat Rushin and the game cast do a nice job of keeping things manic and energized. And there's no denying that the subject matter is tailor-made for the Gilliam aesthetic, full of absurd questions with equally absurd answers, random moments of screwball humor, and a haphazard balance of whimsy and flat-out nihilism. Qohen spends a lot of time inside a virtual construct that parallels Sam's dream world in "Brazil", and once again Gilliam suggests that, in a world full of hostility, petty power struggles and spiritual loneliness, opting out may be the only recourse some people will ever have.

And this, sadly, may be the reason why the film seems out of touch, at least on the surface. Even the most outlandish neon-crowned oafs and routine-obsessed zombies that inhabit his psychotic Romper Room seem less and less absurd to us 21st century folk every year, and in many ways the inmates have taken over the asylum. The technology of the modern world may have caught up to "Neuromancer" and "The Terminator" in many ways, but you need only turn on your television or surf the web to find that our social and pop culture at its most ridiculous has long surpassed Gilliam's (arguably cautionary) affinity for the weird and asymmetrical. The key difference is that Gilliam knows how to make the preposterous beautiful. I believe this is what makes his films, even the interesting failures, so much more rewarding after multiple viewings. There's a deep, genuine humanity there and, like Qohen, Gilliam keeps searching for something richer even while the world keeps clumsily daring him to just go with the flow. I mean, how can you not root for a guy who tried and failed to make a movie about Don Quixote, but still keeps making movies? If we're lucky, "The Zero Theorem" will be the film where Terry got the first big gulp of his second wind.

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lotus eater (9 years ago) Reply

I want to see this movie real bad.

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