A story of a man’s existential crisis in a high tech future as he tries to comprehend the meaning of life, and whether or not everything is meaningless. Hard to fathom, but I found this original story to move me just enough to be intrigued.
Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) is a technician, one of many, who works on monotonous, systematic tasks for a controlling corporation. His life has been forfeit for this task, and he is now a shell of a man without hopes or dreams; but he waits for a phone call, a mysterious phone call that will never come, but when it does it will give his life meaning. While those around him are boisterous and obnoxious, he is recluse and sociopathic, yet they try to get through to him, and prove that he is… in fact, trapped in a delusion.
Like a lot of Terry Gilliam films, The Zero Theorem has a lot of subtext that is exaggerated in gaudy bright and chaotic set pieces and costumes. Like someone took The Fifth Element, covered it in glue, and rolled it around in a scrapyard. But I like it, it reminds me of the scrapbook animations he made for the old Monty Python series.
The film opens with establishing the world that has isolated Qohen so harshly. Everything is digital; advertisements follow you down the street, parks are festooned with “Do Not” signs, and everyone uses mobile phones and tablets all the time. One moment in particular during a party; people standing together in a group, but displaying themselves through tablet screens.
There’s a lot of sociopathic influences, and the film tries to balance whether we sympathise with Qohen’s sad isolation, or reject him as “weird” and non-conformist. Personally I sympathise with him, I found the film’s clear distaste for a loud, obnoxious, corporate fueled world compelling.
But like a lot of Gilliam’s films, it is a hard sell. It is incredibly unique and that’s what I look for in cinema nowadays and I am very glad I watched it. But for a lot of today’s audience they will be left in the dark, utterly perplexed by its weirdness and lack of traditional storytelling tropes.