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'The Zero Theorem' Review: Terry Gilliam


By Todd Gilchrist

Opening with a shot of a man literally staring into the void, Terry Gilliam's The Zero Theoremcreates a brilliant divide between how we lead lives that contradict our values, and how we dedicate ourselves to efforts that undermine our goals.

And while it's a slightly more personal journey than most of his work, it's also full of what we've come to expect from Gilliam:layered realities, technological claustrophobia, institutional paranoia and, perhaps most important, quirky but irrepressible romance it's a personal journey into Gilliams own beliefs.

Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained) plays Qohen, a hairless shut-in, sure that he is about to die, who crunches entities for a vast, faceless corporation. While he waits for a phone call that will deliver his fate, Management (Matt Damon) offers him a unique challenge in exchange for the privilege of working from home: help solve a complicated, mysterious equation called the Zero Theorem.

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After he meets a young woman named Bainsley (Melanie Thierry) who is weirdly charmed by his determination to isolate himself, his company sends a teenager named Bob (Lucas Hedges) to help get his work back on schedule. Soon, he is forced to decide between his new friends and the work that is slowly driving him crazy.Its telling that Qohen doesnt really know what he wants instead lamenting the absence of something to give him direction.

From thefish-eye lenses that isolate Qohen even in his own rundown apartment, to the wall of industrial noiseQohen is greeted with whenever he opens his front door, Gilliam finds obvious but effective ways to make the audience identify with his protagonists view of the world around him.

Those choices dont overshadow the films main idea figuring out what gives human life purpose but they do turn Qohen's introspection into action and make his internal struggle feel like a fascinating quest.

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Waltz, shaved bare (even of eyebrows) and constantly slumped like a bullied kid always expecting to get punched, imbues Qohens mannerisms with an odd charm and makes his desperation oddly appealing — even hopeful. Thierrys Bainsley sometimes feels like more of a plot device than a full-fledged character, but Gilliam and screenwriter Pat Rushin show how the seduction of Qohen unexpectedly makes her feel less empty inside.

Meanwhile, as Bob, a cynical teen prodigy brought in to help solve the Zero Theorem, Lucas Hedges (Moonrise Kingdom) not only gives a very isolated character someone to talk to but points out how Qohens plan to shut himself off from the rest of the world is not an especially effective way to find his place in it.

Like most life lessons, the answers to Qohen's problems are hidden in plain sight. But the way Gilliam approaches his material with the maturity of an experienced filmmaker but the enthusiams of a young one, "The Zero Theorem" marks the difference between a film with a nihilistic attitude about human existence, and one that believes in the idea that there are many reasons to live, both great and small.

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