The Zero Theorem (UK/Romania/France, 2014)

MV5BMTc4NTIxMTE0OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTQ5NTYxMjE@._V1_SY1200_CR89,0,630,1200_AL_Directed by: Terry Gilliam. I try to keep up with the directors that I like, and I guess I would say that I am a “fan” of Terry Gilliam, but even as I say it, I feel the need to bury the statement beneath a mountain of qualifications and distancing. The disappointing aftertaste of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was still fresh in my mind, and it made me want to keep arm’s length away from what I perceived as Gilliam’s downward turn into Tim Burton territory—but really, Michel Gondry territory, who started making movies that not only I didn’t like, but that made me re-evaluate if I ever liked his old movies in the first place. (And, before the chorus of protesting voices swells up accusing me of being insensitive, I have to admit that in all fairness, if I think Imaginarium was kind of a mess, it must be hard to finish a film, and one as complex and outside-of-genre like that one, when your lead actor dies during filming—so fair enough.) But, happily, Christoph Waltz did not die during this production, and the final film, we can assume, is more or less precisely the way Gilliam wanted it (as much as any finished artwork is ever precisely the way the artist wanted it), and we can judge it accordingly. The short version of my review is this: I didn’t think it was that good. To elaborate slightly: it was a very archetypical Gilliam movie, a cross between Orwell and Kafka with more goofy irreverence than either, and also more on-the-nose sentiment than either. Both Orwell and Kafka pit their heroes against the cold alienation of a modern (or futuristic) techno-capitalist society, but Gilliam always goes out of his way to make sure we know that his heroes are the most incredibly misunderstood, delicate snowflakes in the whole universe. And, as far as all of those things go, Gilliam’s done it before, and he’s done it better. Over and over, this movie reminds you of Brazil, but it also reminded me of Imaginarium: it’s not as good as the former, and I’d say better than the latter. Look no further than Matt Damon, who does a good job but feels like a miscast “big name” guy who was game enough to come on board for less money than usual and lend the project some studio clout—the Robert DeNiro role in Brazil. Also, the throwaway characters of the tall guy and the dwarf: it’s like Bob Hoskins and the other guy with the weird hat—and come, on, Gilliam, if you don’t want to give them a good role, leave the dwarfs alone! The gender stuff is still pretty fucked in this movie, and it’s usually not Gilliam’s strong point in his films anyway. I think Mélanie Thierry gets a more interesting and believable character in this film than poor Kim Greist in Brazil. Both are relegated to the pretty transparent function of traditional “love interest/female foil” for the tortured, anguished, misunderstood, lonely, introverted male protagonist, but at least in this movie, the sexual element is treated pretty head-on (maybe a bit too head-on?), and the character isn’t a cardboard cutout—she’s maybe the only character in the film that has a fucking pulse. And actually, the only one who elicits more smirks and proper laughs from me in this movie is my man David Thewlis, who does a completely amazing job here. It’s a testament to how fucking great he is that he plays this forgettable shmoe of a manager (with that great awful toupé on the whole time) like he’s playing in Shakespeare or something. The first half of the movie—the parts with more Thewlis—are the best parts, partially because as the film gets rolling, the story sort of crawls up its own ass a bit, and because the claustrophic second and third act almost entirely take place in Qohen’s apartment. It’s a cool looking set, but holy shit, after the breathtaking sensory overload and eye candy of the first act, the momentum just drags and drags and drags, no matter what’s actually happening in the plot. The plot is too out-there and the characters are too under-there for the whole package to come off successfully for me. By the time the ending came, the big, quiet, side-stepping showstopper that’s meant to be a head-scratcher and a re-watcher and whatever else it’s supposed to be, was ultimately just “thank god this damn thing is over.” There are some great performances in this, but unless you’re a dedicated fan, I’m not sure if I would recommend going out of your way for this one.


3 responses to “The Zero Theorem (UK/Romania/France, 2014)

  1. Pingback: Spectre (UK/USA, 2015) | Offhand Reviews·

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