How incredible is it that Terry Gilliam has two new films coming out in the same release year? Of course, one of those films, The Double, happens to be directed and written by British talent Richard Ayoade, and has nothing to do with Gilliam at all beyond using his work as a visual and thematic touchstone; think Brazil by way of Dostoyevsky. But the other picture, The Zero Theorem, is all Gilliam’s, an unapologetically weird retro-future vision of the world that could only come from him.
And it’s been trailerized for a second time, all for our previewing pleasure. Putting Gilliam’s name on the clip almost feels redundant; anyone who has ever seen even one of his movies will easily recognize his filmmaking signature in this film’s look, comprised of grimy urban cityscapes, colorfully stylized fashion sensibilities, and a complete overabundance of wacky technology. Just based on family resemblance alone, The Zero Theorem is obviously a Gilliam joint.
But when you get past the film’s superficial elements, we see a society that’s dominated by the whims of technocratic, elite ruling classes, as well as a critique of cultural commercialism. (Try saying that five times fast.) So, in other words, The Zero Theorem sounds like classic Gilliam. The story follows depressed computer programmer Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) as he waits in vain for someone to explain the meaning of life to him; concurrently, he slaves away to solve the eponymous mathematical formula, a Big Crunch theory derivative that will reveal whether or not the universe has a finite lifespan.
Cheery stuff! Along the way, Qohen also dallies with beautiful femme fatale Bainsley (Mélanie Thierry) and Bob (Lucas Hedges), the teenage son of Management (Matt Damon), the shady, enigmatic character Qohen attempts to reconcile the “Zero Theorem” for. Quite a mouthful, but Gilliam isn’t one for simple plots, and if anything, there’s a sense that he’s truly “on” here, that he’s engaged with his material and with his conceit in a way that he arguably hasn’t been with most of his ventures in the new millennium. (He’s certainly putting in work to make the film as detailed as possible.)
Gilliam is an exciting filmmaker, though, so the very concept of him outputting a new film is enough to get giddy over. (And that’s saying nothing of his new found plans to finally, at long last, triumph over his struggles with The Man Who Killed Don Quixote and get that film made.) Plus, he has a truly outstanding cast at his beck and call. If he’s really connected with The Zero Theorem, then his enthusiasm combined with his gifted troupe could make the film into something really special.
The Zero Theorem opens later this year.