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The Zero Theorem

Film Four Stars
I've been holding off on this review for Terry Gilliam's latest film The Zero Theorem for a number of reasons. The most prominent is that I've just not been sure how to write it and put in words what I thought of the film, the other is that there are so many other reviews with strong opinions stating what they say the film is about, and for those reasons I wanted a little distance from the film and the experience before I decided what I was going to say.

A Terry Gilliam film is no small thing, and that's why I used the word experience, a Gilliam film is an experience for all your senses, particularly your mind as there is never really one clear message spelled out for you. With a Gilliam film you are forced to think for yourself and take away your own understanding and experience of what you've just seen, and that's especially true with The Zero Theorem.

Plot.pngTheZeroTheorem.jpgA computer hacker whose goal is to discover the reason for human existence continually finds his work interrupted thanks to the Management; namely, they send a teenager and lusty love interest to distract him.

TheFilm.pngNow that’s the plot from IMDB but I have to say it doesn’t do the film justice or indeed do I think it is actually the plot of the film. Personally I’d ignore it and move onto the review and the film.

As I said watching a Terry Gilliam film is always an experience. It always makes you think, engaging your brain from the opening moments and for some time after the credits roll. With The Zero Theorem I would say that this is particularly true as the film is filled with ideas and concepts that will get you thinking and definitely have you walking away with your own ideas of what was meant from the film.

In one way I really love that because you can take away your own experience from the film and end up having some great debates with yourself, friends and colleagues about all the meanings and which were actually meant. That said, I did come away thinking that perhaps there was a little too much packed into the film, too many ideas and concepts that perhaps diluted what could have been the main themes of the film - I say could have been just because they're my ideas of what the main themes were, and they may not be yours.

There were ideas about corporations, religion, surveillance, control, working away your lives, atheism, faith and so much more. I took away that the main themes were of corporations and surveillance, of atheism versus belief and a very strong theme of anti-technology. Even just with these themes you can begin to see how heavy it was, but there was even more to it and I felt it made it a little too disjointed and mixed up with concepts and ideas.

As I said I do love films that make you think for yourself and I especially love films that are ambiguous and leave a lot more to the audience than others, but I did feel that here there was almost too much to think about. Perhaps a little less at the core and we would have been able to have kept focussed a little more.

The film is very typical Terry Gilliam and if you've seen Brazil then you'll see so many similarities and connections you’ll no doubt know what to expect. This is especially odd since Gilliam didn't actually write the film, that was Pat Rushin. Just imagine Brazil and add in more Gilliam, even if it perhaps just a little too much.

Still, despite not being from his pen or at least co-written, it is steeped in classic Gilliam and that's a great thing for all the reasons I've mentioned above, and it is a very interesting film packed with ideas that will get right into your head. For me I really was surprised by the anti-technology messages that were coming through, the idea that we're losing ourselves in everything virtual came across very clearly and the hints of the technology leaders manipulating us through entertainment and distraction is bubbling under the surface. Yet it was the idea of belief versus atheism and the desire to disprove belief that really caught my attention and set my mind racing. It was an interesting way to look at the two and it really did get me thinking about my own atheism in a different light, could it destroy the hope of people who needed or wanted to have hope?

It also seems to be saying that we're all too swamped, all too busy, and there's not enough of us just sitting back and enjoying the ride when we can. Experience and enjoy events around us rather than being disassociated from them, make time to enjoy life rather than working constantly for an unobtainable goal that isn't yours, working as a tool for someone else until you break.

Enough about the ideas behind the film, you'll have your chance to find your own ideas from the many Gilliam has packed into it, let's get back to the film itself.

There's a great use of sound throughout that not only brings forward the spatial awareness of different locations but it also helps to accentuate the world the characters are living in and the characters themselves.

Like all Gilliam films this is not only a feast for the mind as well as the ears but it's also one for the eyes too, the visuals, sets, costumes and indeed the entire production design is wonderful. You'll catch yourself just gazing at certain moments and certain scenes.

I do find that sometimes the rich visuals and the concepts in such films can distract from the characters and their stories but despite all that was going on I actually found it very easy to be captured by the characters and their emotions.

That brings me to Christoph Waltz who I can honestly say does a great job in the film. He acts his socks off for the role, as do some of the other actors involved such as David Thewlis and the all too brief and comic performance from Tilda Swinton. There's also a great appearance from Matt Damon who's character I just wanted to see more of, and I shouldn't forget to mention Mélanie Thierry who despite getting a little overshadowed by Waltz, also delivers a strong performance.

Overall.pngIt's really hard to review a Terry Gilliam film because they are so much about the audience's own interpretation and connection with the film, especially when it's one like The Zero Theorem which is packed with ideas and concepts for the audience to pick up and connect with.

The Zero Theorem is a visual, auditory and cerebral experience that will draw you into the characters and get you thinking from early on in the film. You'll walk away with equal amount of understanding and questions, and the film will keep you thinking and talking about it well after you've left the cinema.

Gilliam has done a wonderful job with the film and delivered a fantastic piece of cinema that feels like a modern version of Brazil, and that is meant in no negative way whatsoever. It's a thoughtful and engaging film that sticks with you, although you may find that it won't leap at you from the closing titles and may need some time, or perhaps even a second viewing.

One thing that is clear, this isn’t your average cinema outing and so for that alone we should salute it and Gilliam who manages to get right into our heads once again.


  • It appears that there was another attempt at his Don Quixote film but it died once again, he said this with a hint of sadness
  • However he did say that he was starting work on the film again and it looks like they have the money to go forward
  • As he said - three of the legs are on the Quixote horse
  • Canary islands have huge tax relief and that looks like where they will be filming
  • Shooting is set to begin in the last week of September
  • When someone asked about how he felt about crowd funding he didn't seem so positive but did acknowledge that if the money fell through he would consider going down that route
  • For The Zero Theorem he said that it was a quick, frenzied and mad shoot and it was done in a year
  • His style of directing on the film was that the first decision was the best and move on
  • It was filmed on a very tight schedule
  • Crew were working overnight and they were double teaming on sets - space scene filmed underwater at one end of the tank with the beach scene being made at the other
  • It was made on a very low budget
  • This is as close as he wants to get to having too small a budget
  • The cars were loaned by Renault and when they ran out they used the studio golf carts
  • Longest post production, lots of editing and sounds like it was completely reworked
  • When he first read the script he thought here's someone who has read everything I've made
  • Originally there was a Hollywood ending that had him heading off into the sunset on his search for the girl
  • He wanted something more thought provoking, just anything other than the Hollywood ending
  • The significance of the rats were that he wanted to bring nature into the film
  • All his films have his creative control but some have more executives hovering than other
  • When asked about the similarities with Brazil he said he was worried about this question but there are many differences
  • The film is laden with religious imagery
  • Technology has become the new religion
  • It is about the fact that technology has taken over
  • Where is the soul? Are we just technology and the connections and can we truly just be alone?
  • When asked about the state of cinema he did say he wondered where film will go
  • He would rather stick with television series to tell a story
  • I have a shorthand note which I'm not sure what was meant by it, so I'll let you see it here in it's original form: Losing world films and have to come to world cinema

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