I managed to watch The Zero Theorem at its world première at the Venice Film Festival on Monday.
This is an English translation of my review, originally in Italian, I hope you enjoy it.
The Zero Theorem is a demanding film: it asks for our attention, our willingness to listen and to question ourselves, still full aware the answer will probably be yet another question.
Qohen Leth, maths whiz and protagonist of the film, lives in a futuristic world deeply reminiscent of our own, a place where no one pays any attention anymore and everyone wants easy, prepackaged solutions. Qohen is looking for an answer to the most important question of all: he is waiting for a phone call that will give meaning to his life. Disconnected from the universe he lives in, Qohen is a sad lonely black and white figure in a multicoloured, ostentatiously happy universe. His life is stalled, it just stopped, as his suddenly fallen out hair. He is frozen in an instant of unhappiness that we may never truly understand, but only half grasp.
Qohen’s new task at work is to solve “the zero theorem”, an immense job that already drove legions of other matematicians mad. The task however is arduous even for Qohen, who’s distracted and at the same time helped by Bainsley, a sexy young girl unexplicably trying to seduce him, and by Bob, a 15-year-old genius. The contact with these two human beings, so different from him, stirs a reaction in Qohen and it changes his relationship to the world and to the zero theorem itself.
Director Terry Gilliam uses a chisel on the beautiful script by Pat Rushin, stripping it of any aspect of human singularity and elevating it as a universal tale: everything that in Rushin’s script referred to a single man’s story, a family tragedy, a trauma, is cancelled to obtain a wider metaphor of a human condition.
The result is a surprisingly essential, allegorical film, not accepting any kind of shortcut. On the contrary, it attenuates any easy identification with the protagonist and it enhances the wider metaphysical senses of the terrible question: “what’s the meaning of life?”
In The Zero Theorem, Gilliam narrates the fight of a conscience for self awareness, the irrational, earth shattering power of love, the forces that push from numbness to action, from stillness to movement, from virtual to real, from sterility to growth. Maybe the zero theorem is eventually unprovable, but are we sure solving it is the real goal in life?
As a character, Qohen is a bridge between the audience and the complex world of The Zero Theorem, hence a great actor is needed to ground his humanity. Gilliam wisely chose Christoph Waltz, who proves again he’s one of the finest talents working today. The Zero Theorem is entirely built on his body language, on the subtle, imperceptible modulations of his tone and bearing, on his beautiful lined face, where the viewer can still read traces of Qohen’s inner strength. The rest of the cast is excellent as well, especially Melanie Thierry, David Thewlis and cameos from Matt Damon and Tilda Swinton.
To sum things up, The Zero Theorem isn’t suitable for everyone, but if you enjoy films that arouse discussions and thoughts and if you are deathly bored by movies based on a marketing manual, this is your film. Open up your eyes and ears and go on a search for the meaning of life.
What about you? Have you seen the film already? Please tell us about it in the forums!