Terry Gilliam’s latest movie is one of his masterpieces. The Zero Theorem, staring Christoph Waltz, is a subversive science fiction movie that uses the future to show us our present. It is full of ideas, great performances, and is a visual wonder.
The movie follows Q, someone that works a mundane office job, as he tries to solve the zero theorem, which is a mathematical equation that will prove that life is meaningless. Q is a damaged individual that takes no joy out of life. He is an introvert that tries as much as possible to avoid human communication. He wants to work from home, so that he has even less contact with others. He unwillingly goes to a party at his supervisor’s house. There he meets the boss of his company who grants his wish to work from home as long as he will work on the theorem. At the party he also meets a young and beautiful woman that shows interest in him.
Q spends his days waiting for a phone call that he believes will give him the meaning of his life. Much of the film deals in symbolism like this. The phone call represents anything outside of ourselves that we believe will give us the answer to life’s mystery. The dialog in the film, like the film itself, jumps back and forth between the absurdly comic and of a more philosophical nature. However, just because the film deals heavily in symbolism, does not mean that the main characters are not three dimensional or that the world is not fully realized.
Visually the film is an absolute masterpiece, both for the cinematography, the realization of the world that the characters in habited, and the sheer amount of ideas that are on the screen. In Q’s house there is a crucifixion where Jesus’s head is replaced by a camera that watches Q’s every move. In his office he is working on what looks like an absurd video game with a video game controller replacing the typical office keyboard. I have worked several office jobs in the last ten years and working on a meaningless video game is not too far from the truth of what a great deal of office work is like.
The colors explode on screen. Every scene looks like it was carefully orchestrated. Every nook and cranny of the film looks like it had thought put into it.
The film is like our world, but on steroids. If the capitalism that runs our country is allowed to continue one can imagine that this is what our world will turn into. Commercials follow Q down the street as he commutes to work. The party scene, with its garish colors and cartoonish behavior, looks like a modern nightclub taken to its logical conclusion. The characters work ridiculous jobs that bring no meaning to their lives. Terry Gilliam is showing us the absurdity of our world. He is just pushing things a little further so that the everyday becomes new again.
Even though this film is very subversive, it is not without heart. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but the film is not without some small sliver of hope. Gilliam knows what is important despite how much we get wrong.
If you are a fan of Gilliam’s work than I highly recommend this film. if you don’t know any of his work, but are willing to try something that will make you think, then give this film a try. Some critics have described this film as Gilliam-lite, but I don’t agree. This is a unique filmmaker operating at the height of his powers. This is like a modern update of his masterpiece Brazil. While Brazil dealt with a dreamer in the middle of a bureaucracy, this movie imagines a future where corporations run everything.
On a personal note I watched this movie the night of the election. Feeling somewhat depressed I decided to watch something else other then the returns. It was one of those instances where art makes one feel less alone. I thought, “Thank god someone understands what is going on.” Gilliam is a tremendous filmmaker and we are lucky to have him amongst us. He is one of those rare souls that uses his imagination to paint the world as it truly is.