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Comic-Con 2013: The Zero Theorem Panel
Terry Gilliam is unleashed in a surreally beautiful looking new film

19 July 2013  |  Written by Helen O'Hara  

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The Zero Theorem

It's difficult to describe the sizzle reel of Terry Gilliam's The Zero Theorem without sounding a bit touched in the head. There's Christoph Waltz with a completely shaved head, living in a future that looks like Gilliam's Brazil if that society discovered neon in a big way. A flamboyantly-dressed and extraordinarily coiffed David Thewlis walks through an office that looks like a casino; French starlet Mélanie Thierry flounces through a series of fetishistic outfits and claims to enjoy nudity, prompting Waltz to run away in a hurry.

Matt Damon (Gilliam says he's not supposed to admit that Damon's in the film, but he's clearly onscreen) seems to be in charge; Tilda Swinton is terrifying and appears to be taking the role of psychologist; Ben Whishaw is stuck in a lab again, but now he's working with Peter Stormare.

It's dizzying, barmy and looks like Brazil crossed with Twelve Monkeys, with the visual flair of The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus expressed in a hyper-coloured, hyper-stylised way and lots of the lyricism of that ballroom sequence in The Fisher King. There's a repeated refrain of "Zero must equal 100 per cent", the idea that the sum of everything is nothing and a sense that the world is trying to drive our hero insane. It looks, in other words, like Terry Gilliam has succeeded in making a Terry Gilliam film in a way he hasn't done for years.

Introduced by a manic, panicked Gilliam - who claimed he was being held hostage by his producers while finishing the film, and was relying on the NSA to get his video message to us - we are promised that this film includes no superheroes or zombies, but that it does feature what Gilliam considers Christoph Waltz's best performance and a breakthrough for Thierry.

Then we got to see the opening ten minutes of the film. It began with what looked like a black hole, surounded by oil-slick colours and hiding lightning in its depths. We zoom out, and a hairless Waltz apparently floats in front of a screen, naked and defeated but about to start his day. He appears to live in an abandoned church, festooned with the pipes of Brazil, and steels himself before venturing into a loud, aggressive world where news channels are called DuMBC and ads loudly recruit for the Church Of Batman The Redeemer.

At his office, it's even worse; Matt Damon's stern visage stares down from a poster that says "Management has everything under control" while appalling slogans like "Arbeit macht Fun!" and "Corporations Sans Frontiers" twirl overhead. Waltz's work seems to involve pedalling maniacally on a stationary bike while playing video games, but he's very productive. That hasn't made him happy, however, and he's fighting for a disability assessment so that he can work from home. It's not a spoiler to say that he doesn't get all he wants.

The footage we saw was funny, gorgeous and seriously weird. Gilliam fans are going to be thrilled; he's back in his wheelhouse, but this doesn't feel like a retread for him. We can't wait to see more. Maybe Gilliam's producers were right to lock him up until it's done. The Zero Theorem is out late this year or early next, we hope, although there's no confirmed release date for the UK or US just yet.

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