Film Review: The Zero Theorem (UK, 2013)

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Monty Python alum Terry Gilliam has always stood out for his eccentric and distinctive style of filmmaking; always full of imagination, his films take you on an unusual, yet mostly enjoyable journey. His latest effort, The Zero Theorem, is no exception.

In dystopian London, where everyone dresses like Lady Gaga and you’re asked to worship the “Church of Batman: the Redeemer”, reclusive computer genius Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) is recruited by his manager Joby (David Thewlis) and the mysterious Management (Matt Damon) to solve the titular Zero Theorem, an as-yet unsolvable set of equations that set out to prove the meaning of the universe. Despite his melancholic nature and the emotional black hole that is the Zero Theorem, Qohen begins coming out of his shell, thanks in part to a virtual relationship with beautiful call-girl Bainsley (Melanie Thierry), who has been sent by Management to distract him – or perhaps to help him.

Gilliam’s futuristic film retains every bit of the imagination he has showcased in previous efforts (which include Heath Ledger’s last film, The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus). From the set design, to costuming, to the virtual haven of Bainsley and Qohen– every inch of the film has Gilliam’s stamp on it, and it’s refreshing to see a director who has a distinct sense of style that doesn’t stick to the norm. The Zero Theorem largely deals with overarching existential themes and the fate of the universe; Gilliam and screenwriter Pat Rushton tackle these issues with a mixture of profound, dramatic moments of clarity and over-the-top, almost slapstick comedy – but the two genres don’t fit well together, and as a result the film sometimes feels clunky and disjointed. The best and most heart-warming moments are between Qohen and young genius Bob (Lucas Hedges), who begin an unlikely friendship that draws Qohen out of his placated existence.

Gilliam has assembled a fantastic cast for his film. Christoph Waltz brings emotional depth to the withdrawn Qohen, and it’s a nice change from the villainous roles that have dominated his career post-Tarantino. David Thewlis and Tilda Swinton are larger than life as Qohen’s boss and virtual psychologist respectively, while young Lucas Hedges is great as Management’s wise-beyond-his-years son, Bob. The stand out in the film is Melanie Thierry, who injects life and charm into the film – she’s sure to score more work from her role as Bainsley, and rightly so – she breathes so much life into a character that could have been completely one-dimensional.

No, The Zero Theorem isn’t perfect; it’s not without its clunky parts (the bizarre ending, disappointingly, being one of them) and its tone is so all over the place that it’s hard to put into words exactly what genre the film fits into. Despite all this, the film’s charm, and the charm of its leading players, shines through well enough for The Zero Theorem to be a film worth watching.

Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

The Zero Theorem is released in Australian cinemas tomorrow, May 15th.