Tuesday, September 23, 2014
"The Zero Theorem": Terry Gilliam's latest fantasy takes off when Lucas Hedges takes over the film
“The Zero Theorem” is the latest film by Terry Gilliam, and the director perceives it as a long awaited completion of a trilogy comprising “Brazil” and “12 Monkeys” (the latter of which I remember back in 1996).
The protagonist is a computer hacker Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) who works in a ragged home that seems to be an abandoned church, surrounded by playthings. Outside is a psychedelic city, which may supposed to be London, although the cars drive on the right side. (The film was made in the UK, Romania, France and Germany.) Leth waits for a phone call, and expects a complicated computer assignment form the “Management” run by Matt Damon, for his technocratic employer Mancom. After a party given by Joby (David Thewlis) and interactions with a therapist (Tilda Swinton, right out of “Snowpiercer”) and an imaginary playmate (often on a kind of Skype) girl friend Bainsley (Melanie Thierry), Leth gets his assignment, to prove the “Zero Theorem”, which says that the Universe adds up to nothing and will eventually contract back to a black hole (often illustrated), a singularity at the point of creation.
One could challenge that idea. The Universe may expand forever, or eventually self-destruct in “the Big Rip”. The laws of thermodynamics predict entropy, and then suggest that life, consciousness and free will contradict entropy and keep the Universe developing.
Leth’s appearance is worthy of note. His head is shaven, as is his chest. This may all be necessary for him to wear a data suit (an innovation described in the 1990s by Omni Magazine) and experience a virtual reality (or perhaps “Second Life”) relationship with Bainsley. In some scenes, he’s on a tropical beach, rather like Hawaii but perhaps on another planet, with his stringy scalp hair returned, although he looks quite middle-aged. Bainsley wants a relationship of sorts, but no babies, which she says would be impossible.
The film comes together half way through when “Management’s” son, 15-year-old Bob (Lucas Hedges, as from “Moonrise Kingdom”) enters the house to comfort Leth, fix his computers (Leth had smashed it in a tantrum, like in “The Terminal Man”), and pass along to Leth what is really going on. Now Hedges looks about old enough to be half way through high school, perhaps; but he is kindly, talkative, idealistic, and charismatic. At one point he says “I’m nobody’s tool”, perhaps a pun, suggesting that his own attitude on life comes from Ayn Rand. You could describe Bob as an equal mixture of teen Harry Potter, Jack Andraka, and the college-age Mark Zuckerberg. Bob is capable of some emotional bonding and Leth becomes interested as they move outside like a tag team. Bob even procures the pizza, which a rat sneaks out to munch the scraps from. Suddenly, again indoors, Bob says that he does not feel well, and wants to be put in a cold bath to reduce a fever. Leth puts him in the bath (the “process” isn’t shown in the theatrical release), but soon men come to take Bob away, and make comments that Leth has behaved inappropriately with a teenage boy.
Now, the audience wants the most for Bob (just as it would the best for Clark Kent or Harry Potter) so I wondered if Bob was really sick and if this was some kind of trick to test Leth. There is a similar idea in my screenplay “The Sub”, which I have now embedded in “Do Ask, Do Tell: Conscripted”. That led to a row when I was substitute teaching back in 2005 as I have explained elsewhere (man blog, July 27, 2007). The same concept, that was so offensive to some, seems to be in play here.
The official site is here. The distributor (Amplify, along with Voltage Pictures) is not as well known,
I wonder why there isn’t bigger distribution (like IFC or TWC). Maybe Rogue is involved, since Hedges gives an interview on Rogue here.
I saw the film at the AFI Silver Theater, the only venue showing it.