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Zero Theorem, The

Entry updated 26 July 2021. Tagged: Film.

Film (2013). Voltage Pictures presents an Asia & Europe Productions and Zanuck Independent production in association with Zephyr Films, Media Pro Pictures, Le Pacte, Wild Side Films, Picture Perfect Corporation and Film Capital Europe Funds. Directed by Terry Gilliam. Written by Pat Rushin, with additional material by Gilliam. Cast includes Matt Damon, Lucas Hedges, Tilda Swinton, David Thewlis, Mélanie Thierry and Christoph Waltz. 107 minutes. Colour.

A reclusive Computer genius searches for the meaning of life.

"I have a special project for you that could prove to be mutually beneficial."

The danger in making a film about the meaning of life is that it can make everything but the meaning of life seem meaningless. The more obvious answers, such as love, human connection or fruitful endeavour, can seem shallow or pat while those based on Cosmology or Mathematics can seem remote or portentous. There is plenty of the Humour and visual pizazz one might expect from a Terry Gilliam film in The Zero Theorem, but something of a vacuum in its reason for being, with little evidence of the comprehension of the link between Dystopias and sf in Brazil (1985) or the playful renditions of human history in Time Bandits (1981), still less the thematic cohesion of Twelve Monkeys (1995). The result is ramshackle but likeable.

Eccentric programmer Qohen Leth (Waltz) works for Mancom "crunching entities" and meets his boss "Management" (Damon) at a party given by his Supervisor, Joby (Thewlis). It emerges that another party-goer, Bainsley (Thierry), has been given the task of helping Leth come to terms with a new project involving the collective effort of the company's workforce, the "Neural Net Mancrive", an enormous Quantum Computer mainframe that is attempting to solve the meaning of life. Management's son, Bob (Hedges), is also sent to assist Leth, but it becomes obvious that the Zero Theorem is a ploy on the part of Management to monetize order in the face of disorder. Leth attacks the mainframe, revealing a Black Hole inside and realizing too late that he loves Bainsley despite her being paid to aid him with Sex.

Elements of the film are good fun – Tilda Swinton's turn as AI psychiatrist "Dr Shrink-Rom" is a particular highlight – but their seeming derivative of Gilliam's wider oeuvre impairs the unity of the plot. Gilliam's familiar motifs of a single man versus an oppressive state and of the human imagination pitted against mundane existence are present but more often rendered as a kind of visual slapstick than as a reason for the characters to usurp their shared reality. The film is stylish, however, and moments of Satire arise amongst the cartoon atmosphere. [MD]


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