The Zero Theorem, 2013

© Stage 6 Films

“Look, my friend,” said Don Quixote,”not all knights can be courtiers, nor can all courtiers be, nor should they be, knights-errant. There have to be all kinds in this world, and even though we may all be knights, there is a great deal of difference between us. For the courtiers, without leaving their rooms or the threshold of the court, may travel all over the earth merely by looking at a map; it does not cost them anything and they do not suffer heat or cold, hunger or thirst. But those of us who are real knights-errant, we take the measure of the entire globe with our feet, beneath the sun of day and in the cold of night, out in the open and exposed to all the inclemencies of the weather. We know our enemies not from pictures but as they really are, and we attack them on every occasion and under no matter what conditions of combat. We pay no attention to the childish rules that are supposed to govern knightly duels; we are not concerned as to whether one has a longer lance or sword than the other or may carry upon him holy relics or some secret contrivance; we do not worry about the proper placing of the combatants with regard to the sun nor any of the other ceremonious usages of this sort that commonly prevail in man-to-man encounters, with which you are unfamiliar but which I know well.”

– Don Quixote, pub: 1605 (copyright 1949 by Viking Penguin, New York)

This is a clear cut return to form for the visionary director, Terry Gilliam (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, 1998), who went on to make The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, 2018; a film that almost killed him, yet he managed to make something spectacularly skillful and magnificent from all disorderliness of Miguel de Cervantes‘ risqué, maddening, tragic and hugely funny novel, where every line, every phrase, every word contradicts the premise, as soon as the reader has started to believe that Don Quixote is under their grasp. Here, in the sweltering futuristic, The Zero Theorem, Gilliam and his team set out to tell a story of reclusion, isolation, entity-crunching, an autophobic genius, antisocial crippling, shrink-in-a-box, fifteen year old algorithm prodigy ordering pizza, delivered by women wearing latex and told through the fantastical mind of Gilliam whose set designs look like a grand theme park, complete to the ornamented yet rustic horror house consistency. As a matter of fact everyone’s wearing latex in the background.

The wardrobe used in Theorem has already won an Oscar for best costume design back in 1995/6 for 12 Monkeys, a disorienting cultural comedy, way ahead of its time and starring Bruce Willis, Madeline Stowe and a manic Brad Pitt, – here the transparent jacket is used to enter the NEURAL NET MANCRIVE. 

Of plot there is very little, of eye-candy there’s plenty: neon colors, bright yellow or blood red shiny latex overalls, the Jester suit – complete with the tentacled hat – shiny, glittering cleavages; so much so that when our protagonist goes to a party (reluctantly, to a Terry Gilliam party? Sure) dressed simply in a suit and tie, he gets attention, from the fashion gurus present. The Village people like how he dresses, the suit and tie is an ancient yet riveting concept to them. Just like the film, unintentionally ambitious and reminiscently nightmarish. 

Hi, I love the look. Final evolution or re-product? Maximum brain, minimalist body.

The film tells us a story we have become accustomed to, the signature chaotic ramblings of an over-worked mind, the entangled mechanism, the hard to handle, yet well-balanced vin mousseux. Yes Pi, 1998 pulled us in with its wire-clutter of a brilliant plot, Theorem simply expands on that proposition (when the mind finally takes the leap straight into a clutter of cables and wires and a room filled with machines, which look very retro). A future that we have seen before, also; albeit not exactly like this. This is Gilliam’s future and if Brad Pitt wants to jerk his head all the way to free animals, or for that matter if Christopher Waltz wants to work in the nude and look like a neurotic gamer freak or just a freak; they can very well do it. Plus the Jester has been waiting for a symbolic phone call since before the film was even conceived in Gilliam’s head. What could that be? 

What is with Gilliam and evil fathers and gifted children who come to the rescue of the tortured artist by half time. Serving as a dystopian trilogy, the draconian controlled, Orwellian triptych, Theorem is placed somewhere between Brazil, 1985 and 12 Monkeys, 1995.  

Tilda Swinton seems to be losing her wits with reality in every recent film she’s done. Last I saw her, she looked like an eye-wear commercial for cross-dressers and was trying to stop a rebel uprising on a very fast train.
Never meet your heroes.

Waltz is wonderful yet deliberately confused, like much of the film. Yes, the latter comes with the character but there are moments when you just might see a clueless look in those piercing eyes. The extravagant and gratuitous feel of the film and the meek but highly complex, convoluted, abstruse, enigmatic and Delphic character of Waltz’s Quohen Leth is what keeps the keen viewer going, deeper into the visually aesthetic style of Gilliam, which can prove problematic to viewers who may not be familiar with the director’s zany antics and the way he tells stories.  

It is entertaining in most other areas as well and it’s surprisingly pretty funny at times too. The Zero Theorem is a celebration of neon-lighting, the radiance is pouring out of the screens. However, Gilliam could have used a veteran instead of an English teacher, Patt Rushin to pen the story. The screenplay lacks the confidence of films like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, 1998 and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, 2009. Actor Heath Ledger died while filming the latter and not on the sets of The Dark Knight as most are led to believe, to perhaps to add to the mythology of Ledger’s Joker – maybe trying to give it even more depth; not that the character needs any.

Did I read philosophical treatise somewhere? Oh, for fuck’s sake. Interstellar is out there, streaming everywhere as far as this sinnerman can see, maybe we can use such fancy terms from that and Annihilation and The Beauty and the Beast. Calling Theorem that, would be only stating the obvious, not just that but stating it with an overemphasis on sermonizing and mangled and all convoluted and wired-up; with precedent penning, and the screenplay inspired by vanitas of Ecclesiastes, writer Pat Rushin hovers from dog-ears to another desk with another fat publication, with yet another bookmark, on her chair, the one with casters, from the conference room maybe, all of it to derive ‘the meaning of life‘.

Plus Gilliam likes Orwell, very much; we get it. 

Well, everything said and done, I may or may not watch this one again. No matter what the decision, the line below hit very close to home:

Everything adds up to nothing, that’s the point.

– Qohen Leth

One more thing, we love the management.

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