there is good money to be made from metaphysical nihilism. How so, you might
ask? Well, obviously you are not an evil businessman or you would see it plain
as day. For the rest of us mere mortals, it remains a gaping narrative hole in
Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
Leth is a programming drone who is slaving away, crunching the Zero Theorem,
the grand unified theory of life’s meaninglessness, at the behest of his boss, “Management,”
the charismatic chairman of Mancom. Evidently, the corporate predator stands to
make a lot of money if he can prove the primacy of nothingness. However, Leth
lives in the hope that he will soon receive a phone call that will finally give
him the inner peace he yearns. (Careful of your shoes, because the irony is
laid so thick here, even other characters pick up on it.)
practically a shut-in, Leth manages to befriend Bainsley, a professional party-girl
and web-stripper and Management’s troubled cyber-repairman son Bob, (most
likely through some calculating outside intervention). Nevertheless, Bob’s rebellious
streak is genuine, but tragically so are his congenital health issues.
good thing about Zero T is it looks
like a Terry Gilliam film. Leth’s lair is a masterwork of cyber doodads, human
detritus, and near future urban decay. Likewise, the Mancom set pieces are
suitably large and eccentric. Unfortunately, Pat Rushin’s screenplay was apparently
a belated afterthought, recycling wholesale tropes from Gilliam’s vastly superior
Brazil. In fact, Zero T even lifts the ending (or rather one of the endings),
minimally adapting it the fit the modestly altered circumstances.
Christoph Waltz truly goes for broke as Leth, over and beyond shaving his
eyebrows. He also develops some intriguingly ambiguous chemistry with Mélanie
Thierry’s Bainsley. Yet all his heavy-lifting is undermined by an over-abundance
of clichés and cringingly broad characters, while internal logic remains dashed
far, the greatest embarrassment is the ridiculously looking Matt Damon, trying
to come across like a scary adult. He might be going for a J.R. “Bob” Dodds
from the Church of the SubGenius kind of thing, but he just cannot carry
himself convincingly. Still, in all fairness, it must be admitted Tilda Swinton
gives a considerably subtler performance as Dr. Shrink-Rom the corporate psycho-babbler
than her mean-spirited Thatcher caricature in Snowpiercer.
This is one of those films you want to be so
much better than it really is, especially considering Gilliam doesn’t exactly
churn films out like Woody Allen. Frankly, the far less heralded The Scribbler is a much better
mind-trip. A real disappointment, The
Zero Theorem opens this Friday (9/19) in New York at the IFC Center.
Labels: Christoph Waltz, Dystopian Cinema, Melanie Thierry, Sci-Fi films, Terry Gilliam