Joup Movie Review: ‘THE ZERO THEOREM’ Dir: Terry Gilliam


On an empty Soho street, in the early afternoon of Tuesday, April 25th 2006, I suddenly spotted the oncoming Terry Gilliam, looking like a Sultan or Guru – sandal-clad feet propelling him delicately along in light, loose fitting, wackily patterned attire beneath the canopy of a bright yellow umbrella.

It wasn’t raining.

But this was no affectation, more preoccupation or absentmindedness. He wore a serene smile as he surveyed the street and was accompanied by the air of a content fellow indulged in what I intuited to be his daily constitutional. I was too flabbergasted to formulate any form of salutation. After the flash-bang synaptic-clamour for a plan to interact with him had fizzled itself out, I reached my own mundanity-nirvana, a dopamine grin coursing my face. We shared a pleasant moment as we contentedly acknowledged and passed one another leisurely on the same stretch of narrow pavement on the peaceful London street.


The cacophony of humanity outside the literally sacred space of Qohen Leth’s (Christoph Waltz) former Monastery abode is abuzz with not only the processional throng of the hoi polloi, but the multicoloured manifestation of their desires, as advertisements simultaneously implant and offer to satisfy them. Leth’s overzealously padlocked, fortified portal doesn’t seem so much a Home Security measure as a symbolically prophylactic one. He zig zags a path through the sniper fire of all pervasive information to his place of work ‘Mancom’ the company responsible for his commute’s sensory assault, into the overbearing presence of his supervisor Joby (David Thewlis), who isn’t necessarily the prerequisite arsehole, just stultifying in his ill-informed over-familiarity, persistently mispronouncing ‘Qohen’ (pronounced ‘Cohen’) as ‘Quinn’, despite constant correction.

When first we encounter Qohen Leth, he is sat, bald and naked as a baby in front of the computer, staring through a glass darkly, looking for something no search engine could ever avail him. He proclaims he is (or ‘they are’ – Leth refers to himself in the Majestic Plural: “we are”) dying, by which he actually means he is contemplating and has accepted his own mortality and is confronting the futility of his existence, while his co-workers dutifully take to the proverbial (and almost literal) treadmill, satisfied with their fatuous social lives; faces illuminated by phone or tablet screen as they use said device to interact with the people in their physical proximity (You can almost hear Gilliam describing these scenes as you watch them, his childlike glee escalating into that tittering squeak). Leth seeks to be granted Management’s permission to work from home in the vain hope the Meaning of Life might knock on his door – or in this case – call him on the phone (a landline, tellingly Leth doesn’t own a ‘device’). As a condition of being granted his wish, Leth is reassigned to “Zip-T” or ‘The Zero Theorem’, pet project of ‘Management’ the name Mancom’s CEO (Matt Damon) goes by.

Upon redeployment to the sanctity of his own home to work on The Zero Theorem and await his call, Leth maintains what would be a solitary, monastic existence, were it not for the interruptions of Bainsley (Mélanie Thierry); a beautiful and intriguing fellow employee drawn to Leth’s idiosyncrasies, who manages to entice him out of his shell through interpersonal flirtations enough to embark on a Virtual Reality fling, and philosophically bulletproof, archetypically tech-savvy Bob (Lucas Hedges), ‘Management’s 15 year old son, assigned to keep an eye on one of Mancom’s most highly prized worker bees’ progress toward proving ‘The Zero Theorum’.


Its detractors bemoan that this ‘future’ is merely an amplification of now, that Gilliam is showing his age, and his criticisms are too on the nose. As a champion of this film, I laud it for the same reasons. A little over a year after my chance encounter with Terry Gilliam, the release of the iPhone and it’s ensuing competitors would parasitise practically every aspect of our lives, and almost 8 years later Mr Gilliam seems decidedly less at ease with his surroundings, or Zen about his eighth decade of life. ‘The Zero Theorem’ is a meditation on the distance maintained by remaining more connected, the theological black hole of all encompassing technology, and the potential pointlessness of a life spent searching for external validation.

With at least six production companies involved and a paltry $8.5m budget, this is a small film with big pretensions. While definitely a more claustrophobic ‘slight return’ to some of the themes of ‘Brazil’, such comparisons are misleading, even potentially damaging to the experience, and in most cases lazily attributable solely to the fact that Gilliam’s newest film is a vision of the future, though both share a similarly critical view of the absurd Human preoccupation with the fortification of their footing in the present, rather than examining the larger context in which we piddle away this one shot at existence.

While it’s hardly the same as having him write his name on a piece of paper to flout as evidence to others in order to inflate my sense of self importance, or even hijacking his solitude and shaking his hand, the experience of briefly sharing the same space, time and oxygen as Terry Gilliam was in-and-of-itself enough of a pride to die with. But yes, I am aware of the irony of my flouting it now, in the context of reviewing this film, on the internet no less.



Chester Whelks

Chester Whelks

Chester Whelks is a peripheral figure on the fringes of existence. Predominantly bothering the local music scene of his native Manchester, England, he has a very finely attuned Justice-button, and knows how to call a spade a ‘Multi-Purpose Murder/Concealment Device’.

3 Responses to Joup Movie Review: ‘THE ZERO THEOREM’ Dir: Terry Gilliam
  1. […] Joup Movie Review: ‘THE ZERO THEOREM’ Dir: Terry Gilliam […]...
  2. Shawn C. Baker Reply

    Great review. I really cannot wait to see this film.

  3. [...] Its detractors bemoan that this ‘future’ is merely an amplification of now, that Gilliam is showing ...

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