The Zero Theorem
dir Terry Gilliam
scr Pat Rushin
prd Nicolas Chartier, Dean Zanuck
with Christoph Waltz, Melanie Thierry, David Thewlis, Lucas Hedges, Matt Damon, Tilda Swinton, Ben Whishaw, Peter Stormare, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Naomi Everson, Madison Lygo, Emil Hostina
release US Sep.13 aff, UK Oct.13 lff
13/Romania Voltage 1h47
The Zero Theorem
On a mission: Hedges and Waltz

thewlis damon swinton
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Zero Theorem Terry Gilliam updates the look and feel of Brazil to the digital age with this lively and raucously imaginative adventure-drama. So it's a shame that the plot runs out of steam about halfway through, leaving us unable to piece together the big ideas that flood through every corner of the script.

Feeling like his life has lost all meaning, Qohen (Waltz) despises the chaotic work environment at Mancom, where he's goaded by both his manager (Thewlis) and the computer system itself. After a chance encounter with the big boss (Damon), he welcomes his new assignment to work at home crunching numbers to prove the Zero Theorem. But he's distracted by the seductive Bainsley (Thierry), who puts on a rubber sexy-nurse outfit and lures him into virtual reality encounters. And then there's Bob (Hedges), the 15-year-old overworked computer genius trying to keep Qohen's system running.

As Qohen is unable to feel, taste or experience anything, the overriding theme about his search for meaning in life infuses the story, and it gets more intriguing when we realise that his new project is actually an effort to prove the essential meaninglessness of everything. So the film is a typically Gilliamesque riot of religious imagery, suggestive dialog and witty observations about free will and the grinding anonymity of modern society.

The cast members have a lot of fun with this. Waltz's frazzled, distracted physicality makes Qohen likeable even though he's such an essentially negative grump. Thierry is terrific as the woman of those dreams he can't even remember having. And Damon, Thewlis and Swinton (as Qohen's online shrink) provide some comic relief with snappy characters who are essentially mere elements in the brightly coloured, eclectically textured production design.

But there's a point in the plot where everything suddenly screeches to a halt, leaving us unable to care any more. From here on, the film feels like an indulgent collage of big ideas and wacky effects work, with everything spiralling to a climax we neither understand nor identify with. Along the way there are plenty of elements that spark our imagination, so it's a shame Gilliam couldn't sustain this to give us something genuinely challenging.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 11.Oct.13 lff

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© 2013 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall