Watching Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem is like taking a derivative tour through his past movies. Giant chaotic office like in Brazil? Check. Dystopian future like in Twelve Monkeys? Check. Beautiful, unavailable woman like in Brazil? Check. Main character lost in his own world like in The Fisher King? Check.
The Zero Theorem even has the same feel as most Gilliam movies, which is to say it’s a tragedy masquerading as a comedy. How else do you explain the reasoning behind Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz)’s decision to forego love from the woman (Mélanie Thierry) when she finally makes herself available to him? How else do you explain his decision to live in a virtual reality fantasy after living through a cornucopia of needlessly mind-boggling, and mildly amusing, computer glitches?
The problem with Terry Gilliam’s movies, generally, is that he has a wonderful eye for visuals, but he’s not too adept at storytelling. Most of The Zero Theorem takes place on a single, complicated set, where Leth makes things needlessly difficult. He’s ostensibly trying to find out, mathematically, whether there’s any meaning to life. But if you’ve seen one tragedy, you’ve seen them all, and Leth is doomed. It’s a visually stunning kind of doom, but it’s still doom, and you can see the ending coming a mile away. And has anyone noticed Tilda Swinton plays exactly the same character here that she plays in Snowpiercer?
THE ZERO THEOREM
Directed by Terry Gilliam
With Waltz, Thierry and Matt Damon