Review – The Zero Theorem

Poster for 2014 sci-fi film The Zero Theorem

Genre: Sci-Fi
Certificate: 15
UK Release Date: 14th March 2014
Runtime: 106 minutes
Director: Terry Gilliam
Writer: Pat Rushin
Starring: Christoph Waltz, David Thewlis, Mélanie Thierry, Lucas Hedges, Matt Damon, Tilda Swinton 
Synopsis: A reclusive number cruncher struggles with existential issues when he is asked to work on a theory which proves that life is meaningless.



Former Monty Python star Terry Gilliam is known for making bizarre, dystopian science fiction films. His latest film, starring the double Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz, is a brilliantly baffling head scratcher that deals with deep existential issues of faith and purpose.

Qohen Leth (Waltz) is a miserable recluse, working as an unspecified number cruncher under the watchful eye of his eccentric supervisor (David Thewlis) and the mysterious Management (Matt Damon) whilst he waits for the phone call that will tell him his purpose.

He is given the job of proving the eponymous equation, which will show that life on earth is meaningless, just as two strong personalities come into his world (Mélanie Thierry and Lucas Hedges).

| "We always wanted to feel different… unique."

Christoph Waltz puts in an outstanding central performance as the cold protagonist. Styled as a monk living within a church, his character goes on a spiritual journey during the film, which is beautifully conveyed by the actor in a performance that couldn’t be further away from his cocky bravado in Django Unchained.

One of the real delights of The Zero Theorem is the remarkable world that Terry Gilliam and writer Pat Rushin have created. Christoph Waltz’s character is an outsider in a colourful society that is globalised, grotesquely commercial and almost completely decadent. He is left alone with his faith in a deeply cynical world.

It’s a tragedy that the film leaves little room to fully explore this world. There are only hints of the depth that Gilliam has created, like the face of Boris Johnson on the front of a bus or a baffling array of safety notices. During the plot’s pedestrian early stages, it feels like there are almost certainly far more interesting stories going on elsewhere.

| "The only reason you’re not laughing is because you’re the punchline."

Waltz’s enigma is supported by a series of bonkers performances, from David Thewlis – on top scenery chewing form – especially. Particularly interesting is Lucas Hedges as the rebellious youth playing the chalk to Waltz’s cheese.

For all of its wit and intelligence, it’s frustrating just how oblique The Zero Theorem gets at times. It often mistakes complexity for depth and tends to meander through its plot with no real drive or impetus. It’s not until the climax that its story truly begins to work.


Pop or Poop?

Rating: Pop!

Terry Gilliam certainly cannot be accused of a lack of ambition in his filmmaking, with The Zero Theorem every bit as crazy as his previous dystopian efforts, powered by Christoph Waltz in other-worldly form.

For all of its flaws, the film is a wry look at the cynicism of its dystopian future and an interesting look at religion and spirituality.


Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.

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