At first glance, director Terry Gilliam’s latest effort might seem like an updated version of his classic movie “Brazil,” except this time the target is the corporate world, rather than dysfunctional government bureaucracy. It centers around Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz), a brilliant data analyst toiling away for a company whose offices are the love child of a union between the comic strip “Dilbert” and the Vegas Strip. When he can no longer function at work, Management (yes, with a capital M) assigns him the top-secret Zero Theorem project and allows him to work from home, which in this case is a burned-out church. Qohen appreciates this, since he has been anxiously waiting for years for a phone call.
The Zero Theorem’s supposed purpose is to discover the meaning of life, but it seems designed to drive those who work on it crazy, as evidenced by Qohen’s supervisor noting that he only lasted a few days on it during his early career. The anti-social Qohen attends a party at his supervisor’s house only because he hopes to encounter the enigmatic Management, played by Matt Damon. He succeeds, but their conversation doesn’t shed much light on the Zero Theorem.
However, Qohen also meets the spunky Bainsley (Melanie Thierry) at the party, and she becomes interested in him, despite his desire to be left alone. She eventually cracks his shell, though, and he begins visiting her in a virtual world, where she has created an idyllic beach for them to lounge on together. In the real world, he finds his work interrupted by Management’s brilliant but obnoxious son Bob, who has been sent to the burned-out church to keep Qohen on task. Qohen’s conflict between his work and his interest in Bainsley eventually reaches a climax, although the conclusion is ultimately unsatisfying.
As Gilliam says in the bonus features on this Blu-ray disc, “The Zero Theorem” is ultimately about a man seeking his humanity, which is where it parts ways with “Brazil,” whose protagonist is desperately trying to have his last bit of humanity saved from being crushed. Waltz does an excellent job portraying Qohen’s robotic personality, but he can only do so much with the character.
Despite this film’s blink-and-you-missed-it theatrical run, Well Go USA put some effort into the bonus features on this Blu-ray disc, starting with a nearly 20-minute behind-the-scenes piece that features interviews with Gilliam and others. There’s also a short piece about the visual effects and about 45 minutes covering the costumes and the sets, both of which have that particular mash-up of antiquated and cutting-edge that is a hallmark of many of Gilliam’s movies.
I have a great deal of respect for Terry Gilliam. He’s don’t some brilliant work in the past. Which is why “The Zero Theorem” was a bit of a letdown. It just seemed a bit too earnest. I enjoyed “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassis” much more.