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Zero Theorem, The

D: Terry Gilliam / 107m

Cast: Christoph Waltz, David Thewlis, Mélanie Thierry, Lucas Hedges, Matt Damon, Tilda Swinton

Another dystopian fable from the mind of Terry Gilliam, The Zero Theorem bears a strong relation to Brazil, but lacks that movie’s charm and deft characterisation. Here, Waltz plays Qohen (not Quinn) Leth, a company man who is asked by Management (Damon) to solve the Zero Theorem, a mathematical formula which posits that everything amounts to nothing, or zero. With the help – or is it hindrance? – of Bainsley (Thierry) and Management’s son, Bob (Hedges), Leth does his best to solve the puzzle.

Zero Theorem, The - scene

Made on a predictably small budget, the movie flirts more with ideas than it does engage with them, and there’s a delicate romance in there as well, but it’s all kept in check by the type of narrative ambiguities that make movies like this such a struggle to enjoy and connect with. Gilliam can do this kind of thing in his sleep now and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it does seem to limit him as a filmmaker; ultimately it’s the visuals that strike home rather than any emotional heft the story may contribute (one visual conceit is the black hole that represents Leth’s inner turmoil…or is it his soul?…or his demons? Who knows?). It’s a shame then that The Zero Theorem zips along at a good pace, and the laughs, when they come, are very good indeed. Waltz plays the baffled, slightly obsessive Leth with a keen eye for the absurdities his character has to endure, while Thierry makes for an appealing heroine. It’s Thewlis though who steals the movie, mugging throughout but with all the best lines to excuse him. With an ending that reinforces the similarities to Brazil, the movie leaves one thinking that maybe for his next project Gilliam should tackle something that doesn’t depend on weird props and special effects to get itself noticed.

Rating: 6/10 – disappointing and hollow, The Zero Theorem shows Gilliam’s imagination running riot once again, but at the plot’s expense; scattered with flashes of brilliance but too few to elevate the material.