By Laurie Coker
I never imagined that I would dislike any performance by two time Oscar winning actor Christoph Waltz, but I found little interesting or memorable about him in Terry Gilliam’s chaotic science fiction epic The Zero Theorem. Actually, I lied. Waltz and his co-stars offer splendid performances, but can’t help but wonder – why? Gilliam’s film is beyond weird and nonsensical, making it ultimately extremely annoying.
In fairness, Gilliam’s style of filmmaking evokes a variety of negative emotions – good on one hand, frustrating on the other. I understand Gilliam’s effort at satire and his desire to rant about what troubles him, The Zero Theorem is a muddled mess of cartoonish characters, beginning with an agoraphobic computer programmer (Waltz), who speaks about himself as a pair;“We,” and whose boss (Matt Damon) the blow-hard director of Mancon, wants him to prove that existence is meaningless – oh? Okay. Ultimately, I found the film pretty meaningless. Gilliam’s characters are colorful, as are his sets, but his frantic pace boggles the mind –not because his messages eludes us, but because its lost in the mess of quirky, random, fanatic characters.
The story takes place in the not-so-far-off future, where Qohen Leth (Waltz), holed up in an abandoned building of sorts, puts up with constant, agitating interruptions from an anxious department manager (David Thewlis); a waifish teenage computer genius; an televised computerized psychologist (Tilda Swinton); and a sexy, scantily dressed call girl (Mélanie Thierry), with whom Lethe finds a weird connection – virtually and literally. Like his life, his story runs rampantly towards nothing. He is drone-like, depressed and disturb and I didn’t give a damn.
Still, there is something stunning about Gilliam’s work, especially in films like Brazil (his best) and with The Zero Theorum he manages to create this dazzling world of color and chaos. One might call his futuristic world a rainbow of riveting imagery, tainted with darker edges and cloudy cynicism. Maybe I looked to hard for deep meaning, where none exists, or maybe I am daft when it comes to Gilliam’s style. I got his message, but it’s hardly fresh. He does, however know how to cast his films. Bravo to that. Otherwise, I am placing a D in my grade book. Color me confused.