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Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

FILM DETAILS
Certificate
15
Cast
Christoph Waltz
Matt Damon
Tilda Swinton
Mélanie Thierry
David Thewlis.
Directors
Terry Gilliam.
Screenwriters
Pat Rushin.
Running Time
106 minutes

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The Zero Theorem
Mad genius at work


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Plot
Near-future London. Shut-in mathematician Qohen Leth (Waltz) is assigned by his employer (Damon) to work at home on solving the near-impossible Zero Theorem. Qohen begins a virtual and perhaps actual relationship with cyber-companion Bainsley (Thierry): either a distraction or the means to find an answer.


Review
The Zero Theorem

The first image of The Zero Theorem, a naked man sitting at a retro-futurist work station in a refitted abandoned church, insists we’re back in the unique world of Terry Gilliam. It evokes the opening titles of Monty Python and the “somewhere in the 20th century” aesthetic of Brazil. However, “somewhere in the 21st century” Gilliam is finding contemporary absurdities to extrapolate into ridiculous yet horrific future trends: a park dominated by a sign enumerating all the things which
are forbidden in appealing little ideograms; a party in a darkened house where all the guests’ faces are underlit by the iPad-type devices they are constantly consulting; a virtual-reality sex site which might nudge a visitor to understand the nature of the universe.

All this brilliance is the background, like the streaming-news headline gags which will make you wish for a freeze-frame function in the cinema, often threatening to take over the film (like the Gilliam supporting short which invades the main feature in The Meaning Of Life). Pat Rushin’s screenplay could almost be a play: two-thirds of the film takes place in one (impressive) set, and there’s a great deal of talk about mathematics, the universe and true love. Great themes, no doubt, but the packaging is more stimulating than the gift inside. Even the mad geniuses who pursue the Zero Theorem admit no-one would really want the proof of pointlessness which lies at the end of this quest.

Christoph Waltz’s Qohen is an eccentric, electric everyman, surrounded by vivid characters: sure-to-break-big Melanie Thierry is a manic pixie dreamgirl with teeth, while hologram Matt Damon, David Thewlis (who comes across as a hitherto-unknown Python) and virtual Tilda Swinton contribute funny bits. While many will find The Zero Theorem irritating, it tackles big ideas without pretension, reminding us that Terry Gilliam is an essential filmmaker, taking on the thankless task of making the personal, difficult, ambitious movies cinema needs if it is to survive.
 


Verdict
It’s the tangle of workings-out not the easy answer that are the proof of a theorem, and that magnificent, sparkling, insightful chaos abounds here.


Reviewed by Kim Newman

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for The Zero Theorem
Empire Star Rating

RE: GILLIAMESQUE.....

I really enjoyed this. There's a bit of a lull in the middle but otherwise this is a return to form for Gilliam, I think. Mental but lovely at the same time. ... More

Posted by UTB at 23:02, 31 August 2014 | Report This Post


GILLIAMESQUE.....

“We” would’ve liked to have seen more of the futuristic London sets and the delectable French babe Melanie Thierry but unfortunately” we “cannot have everything. Depressingly humorous, ambitious, imaginative – Terry Gilliam’s latest film has echoes of many of his earlier (superior) works but still packs an emotional wallop thanks to some strangely familiar characters and situations offset (as always) by some wildly interesting ideas. Christoph Waltz conf... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ROTGUT at 17:18, 21 March 2014 | Report This Post


RE: Not one of Terry Gilliam's best, nor indeed one of his worst

In the future, Qohen Leth is a reclusive ‘entity cruncher’ g for the faceless ManCom corporation. He wants to work from home, primarily because he’s been waiting his whole life for someone to ring his landline to finish telling him something. After attending a party where he receives unwelcome advances from a cyber prostitute called Bainsley, management gives him his wish as long as Qohen will work on a new project: cracking a code that may unlock the secrets of life itself, but will probabl... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Dr Lenera at 09:27, 18 March 2014 | Report This Post


Not one of Terry Gilliam's best, nor indeed one of his worst

When it comes to Terry Gilliam, you always expect the best of cinema at his hands and even when he does something not entirely satisfying (with the exception of The Brothers Grimm), a failed work by Gilliam is a lot better than the standard Hollywood pic as he is always ambitious and imaginative and any new film by him is a cause for celebration, given his luck at making movies through enormous difficulty. Five years after The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Gilliam returns to the realm of sci... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by R W at 00:05, 15 March 2014 | Report This Post


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