In a bizarro satirical vision of the future where ordinary human lives and society is even more technology-infused (and thus, alienating) than the present, an aging and socially-awkward genius named Qohen Leth (played by two-time Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz) is tasked with proving a theorem that – if indeed correct – will demonstrate beyond any doubt that “0 (zero) must equal 100%” and that existence therefore doesn’t have a purpose… or does it? Well, once he solves The Zero Theorem then Qohen will know the correct answer, apparently.
Confused? Welcome to the world of director Terry Gilliam, the mad genius (or madman, take your pick) who gave us those deliciously twisted Monty Python animations, as well as mind-bending cult films like Time Bandits, Brazil and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – with Twelve Monkeys being perhaps his most accessible movie to date (and even that Bruce Willis time-travel romp – loosely inspired by Chris Marker’s 1962 experimental short film La jetée – is still more than a tad bonkers).
While reading details on the Zero Theorem script by Pat Rushin may help shed more light on the film’s sci-fi world and themes for some, they might also leave you feeling as equally confused as you probably do after watching the newly-unveiled trailer. Credit where credit’s due, Gilliam’s latest appears to be full of dazzling colors, trippy scenarios, and elements of biting social commentary flying about; it’s certainly neither boring nor conventional in design, if nothing else.
Gilliam’s work over the last decade has felt more than a little autobiographical (if also increasingly esoteric), revolving around protagonists whose only way of dealing with and surviving the madness around them is to use their skills of expression and creativity – be they an imaginative young girl stuck living in a real-world Hellish version of Wonderland (see: Tideland), or a grizzled magic conjurer whose outdated trick and trade is all that he has left to make ends meet (see: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus). The characters, story and themes in Zero Theorem seem in keeping with that motif, with Waltz as the latest Gilliam onscreen stand-in.
As you might expect given the nature of this beast, early reviews from Zero Theorem‘s showing on the film festival circuit in 2013 have been split; some critics have gone ahead and embraced Gilliam’s movie, while others have argued that it’s too messy and (worst of all) a little too late to work as timely satire. Regardless, if you’re still onboard after sitting though Gilliam’s last couple films (not always an easy task – I know from experience), then you might want to try his latest strange concoction.
Rounding out the cast of The Zero Theorem are Matt Damon (The Monuments Men), David Thewlis (Harry Potter), Ben Whishaw (Skyfall), Lucas Hedges (Labor Day), Tilda Swinton (The Grand Budapest Hotel) and Mélanie Thierry (Babylon A.D.).
The Zero Theorem doesn’t have an official U.S. release date yet; we’ll strive to let your know when it does.