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  Zero Theorem, The Ask A Silly Question
Year: 2013
Director: Terry Gilliam
Stars: Christoph Waltz, Mélanie Thierry, David Thewlis, Lucas Hedges, Matt Damon, Tilda Swinton, Ben Whishaw, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Peter Stormare, Emil Hostina, Pavlic Nemes, Dana Rogoz, Gwendoline Christie, Rupert Friend, Ray Cooper, Lily Cole
Genre: Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: It is the near future and Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) is a troubled man in an environment designed to make life easier for the world's citizens but in effect simply gives him a dull, throbbing emptiness in his soul. However, there is one thing he feels could help him, and that is if he receives a telephone call from a mysterious entity who quite possibly could give him a meaning to his days, the big answer to the big question of it all, a reason why it is not as pointless as he fears, so every time it rings he desperately lunges for the handset only to be continually disappointed when it's simply a computerised voice from his work telling him what he should be doing for them. What he believes is that he is sick, and should really be working from home...

Director Terry Gilliam made his name as a humorist, and because of that even at the latter stages of his career audiences were seeking the jokes in his work, and when they didn't get them the reaction was in general rather negative. For those who understood he was also about the more depressing breakdowns in communication, whether at personal fault or one that was imposed and even enforced, they would get far more out of his oeuvre, and anyway, it wasn't as if 12 Monkeys had been a laugh riot, was it? That was pertinent because that film and his previous effort Brazil built up to an ending bittersweet at best, and desolate at worst, and with The Zero Theorem Gilliam was claiming he was making the third in that trilogy.

Never mind that Time Bandits, Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen were supposed to be a trilogy too, but if he wanted his trios to overlap then that was very much up to him. Even by Gilliam's standards Qohen (whose name almost nobody in the story can pronounce) was an eccentric presence, depicted with Waltz's admirable focus as a bundle of quirks designed to keep others at arm's length until he can fathom the reason behind everything, referring to himself in third person plural and eventually getting away with spending a whole year in his home. That might have been a cost-cutting exercise as much as it was a plot device, since the elaborate, abandoned church location Qohen has made his residence was as ornate as anything in this director's catalogue, too much to take in and therefore consistently diverting.

The bulk of the movie was set there, which considering it took the form of a bloke on the internet for its drama was a lot more captivating than it should have been, unless you ordinarily enjoy watching other people surfing the net for your entertainment. Having convinced his work, the far-reaching Mancom corporation, that he is sick enough to deliver their production line of programming over the ether at his home, Qohen can now set about applying his spare time to the meaning of life, except the powers that be demands more of that time than he is willing to give and he finds no freedom in this arrangement, not least because this Zero Theorem is what the company is seeking the solution for as well. However, he is not entirely alone, as he is occasionally interrupted, most notably by Bainsley (Mélanie Thierry) who he met at a party he was invited to by his inanely cheery boss (David Thewlis).

Bainsley is a dream girl for the ageing, lonely Qohen, but he's those because he has never made the right connection, preferring to obsess over his philosophies, yet even she is not all she seems. Ironically the best relationship he has with her is over the internet, a commentary on the "virtual" (for want of a better word) life more than supplementing the actual life, taking it over so staring at a screen becomes more valid and authentic than interacting face to face, or in Qohen's case, putting on the cybersuit movies like The Lawnmower Man told us we would be decked out in all the better to lose ourselves in computer-generated landscapes. There was the odd laugh as Gilliam's style was absurdist, but in the main we were watching the protagonist painting his mind into a corner, with the big boss (Matt Damon) ensuring his purpose is finally futile, though the boss still makes a profit from imposing false order on chaos. The ending was familiar in Gilliam, an isolated hero lost in his fantasies as nothing else had anything to offer him, not even companionship. So much for meaning. Music by George Fenton.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Terry Gilliam  (1940 - )

Endlessly imaginative American director and animator who gained fame as one of the Monty Python team. He co-directed the Pythons' films Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Monty Python's Life of Brian and Monty Python's Meaning of Life, but also helmed his own projects, starting with Jabberwocky and Time Bandits.

The brilliant Brazil was beset with production problems, and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen was nearly a complete disaster. After that, Gilliam directed other people's stories: The Fisher King, Twelve Monkeys, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Brothers Grimm. 2006's controversial Tideland returned Gilliam to independent filmmaking, while his failed attempt to bring Don Quixote to the screen was documented in the painful Lost in La Mancha.

His next, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, survived the death of its lead actor, and The Zero Theorem was a melancholy sci-fi which proved he could work quickly and efficiently after all. He finally succeeded with The Man Who Killed Don Quixote in 2018.

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