I am one of those who grew up with Monty Python and have enjoyed many of the films of animator turned director Terry Gilliam from Jabberwocky to Brazil and Time Bandits so i was off to the cinema on the opening weekend of his latest film. I had an enjoyable time all right but it didn’t really have some of the emotional punch of his best films
Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) is an entity cruncher at a powerful company called Mancorp. This is apparently like number crunching but more complex. Qohen has a strong dislike of commuting to work through the sensory overload of the city streets to the even more chaotic office where he works. He appeals to his supervisor Joby (David Thewlis) to be allowed to work at home but only Management can authorise that. Qohen is obsessed with the notion that one day his phone will ring and the person on the other end will tell him the meaning and purpose of his life and this is why he wants to work from home though he does really hate going outside.
The supervisor invites Qohen to a party where he can meet Management who turns out to be Matt Damon in suits that always match his background but Qohen finds little sympathy from the man. The party is just as chaotic as at the office with everyone bumping into each other as they manipulate phones and tablet computers. A young woman called Bainsley (Mélanie Thierry) tries engaging Qohen in conversation but Qohen just wants go home.
Next day Qohen gets examined by three doctors to see if he is sick and can work from home but that doesn’t seem to go very well so it’s a surprise when Joby tells Qohen that he is getting his wish to work from home on a special project called the Zero Theorem. This is long term project that has apparently been going for years burning out the minds of anyone working on it including Joby. This doesn’t seem to worry Quinn. He gets working on the project but every advance he makes seems to crumble away to nothing and he doesn’t really know what it is he is working on. It turns out that the Zero Theorem is proposition that the universe is meaningless. As he fails to make progress Mancorp send him Bob (Lucas Hedges) a teenage technical wiz to help with any technical issues and Bainsley is sent to help him with psychological emotional problems. The film really does a great job evoking a sense of the world where everyone is hyper connected by technology but Qohen is alone in his converted church. Gilliam likes playing with these ironies and another character later says of Qohen that he’s spent so long looking for the meaning of his life that he has led meaningless empty life
This is a very Gilliam film with a quiet unassuming lead being overwhelmed by a world dominated by trivia and noise. There is no real malevolence or deliberate in the politics of this dystopia, just a sense of decay through apathy, greed, vanity and selfishness. Advertising is intrusive and pervasive and Qohen is constantly being watched by Management. The world is like day-glo daytime version of the urban techno dystopia of Blade Runner but with technology that has a sort of leaky pneumatic feel of Brazil. There is quite a bit of humour especially with Tilda Swinton as a computer psychiatrist called Dr Shrink-ROM that Qohen consults and a pair of violent bungling henchmen who work for Management. It is not going to be a film that will have broad appeal but I enjoyed my visit to Gilliam-land even if the story felt a bit flat at times.