The Zero Theorem
Terry Gilliam's latest is a tale of love and loneliness that sadly fails to touch the heart
Existential equations are the at first pleasingly perplexing order of the day in the third part of Terry Gilliam's dystopian trilogy, following 1985's Brazil and 1995's 12 Monkeys. Set in the near-future and boasting an eclectic international cast, The Zero Theorem is reliably askew with all the absurdity you'd hope for from a Python.
A hairless Christoph Waltz plays data processing whizz Qohen Leth, an employee of a merciless corporation called Mancom, scratching out a lonely existence in a burnt-out chapel. As the film begins, he's waiting on a terribly important call, which it transpires has been a very long time coming. So desperate is he to receive this communication that he asks his supervisor Joby (David Thewlis) if he might work permanently from home, eventually gaining permission from ‘Management’ (Matt Damon). Tilda Swinton is in fine comedic form as Qohen's online psychologist Dr Shrink-Rom, who tries to help this most reclusive and anxious of characters, while Mélanie Thierry plays Bainsley, a beautiful woman who takes a mysterious interest in him.
It'll be no surprise to hear that Gilliam delivers visual imagination and witty touches in spades, with the film's aesthetic forged from a delightful marriage of the futuristic and retro: arcade machines that function as work stations; a bank of amusingly prohibitive street signs. If Gilliam's twelfth is dazzling to the eye and conceptually grandiose – dealing with the search for the meaning of life – unfortunately Pat Rushin's screenplay doesn't deliver much in the way of story or real substance. The Zero Theorem falls short of its promise: events don't raise the pulse or excite the mind and even the marvellous Waltz seems a little adrift. Perhaps most frustrating is that this is a story which takes in love and loneliness but fails to touch the heart.
General release from Fri 14 Mar. Screening at the GFT, Glasgow on Thu 27 & Fri 28 Feb, as part of the Glasgow Film Festival.