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Quendrith Johnson

Quendrith Johnson is Los Angeles Correspondent covering everything happening in film in Hollywood... Well, the most interesting things, anyway.
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What is ‘The Zero Theorem’? Eye-Popping Christoph Waltz, Tilda Swinton, Star & Helmer Terry Gilliam Roars

by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent

Yesterday Christoph Waltz, a two-time Oscar winner, turned 58; and it’s a high probability that no one at his party told him he has made the most important movie of his career in The Zero Theorem, but he did. Anything Tilda Swinton is in, is usually great, this being no exception. Call it a Terry Gilliam magnum opus, once in a lifetime movie that proves all the math on the greatness of Brazil’s promise, but with extra gears both in its wry direction and cultural criticism.

‘What happens when you hang up on God?,’ is the premise in this outlandish pixelated rainbow-hued but oppressive world of Some Indeterminate Future Now.

Matt Damon plays the Uber Lord here, referred to only as “Management,” but often mistaken for God in this hodgepodge futurist melting pot of weirdos, Mensa-like member citizens, porn stars. Damon said he only spent three days shooting, but again, wow, this is an eye-popping role for him too. Damon’s character appears and vanishes like the Cheshire Cat, all the while literally blending into his surroundings in the camouflage of same-fabric trompe l’oeil effect.

French Superstarlet Mélanie Thierry, known for acting as well as her romps as the Spokesgoddess for Yves St. Laurent, is tailor-made for her sexpot role. Maybe she will finally cross-over in the US.

For the intellectuals among us, Zero Theorem could be called ‘The Wizard of Id’ in Freudian terms. 

Because the film is as much about Christoph Waltz’s software whiz-banger Qohen Leth’s over-stimulated employment conundrum, as it is about human nature. Where all the things that happen inside the human psyche are outpaced by technological change. Leth is the perfect specimen of what happens when Singularity outstrips our ability to keep an even keel.

David Thewlis, who reupps his visual artist schtick as Knox Harrington from The Big Lebowski, takes an exponential leap forward in Zero Theorem. Even to the point where his sarcasm comes full circle with his pathos. Well-done.

Again, Gilliam provides a showcase for Thewlis as he does with Waltz and Swinton in terms of raw talent here.

But Gilliam says it best in his director’s statement, with “Hopefully, it’s unlike any film you have seen recently; no zombies, no caped crusaders, no aliens or gigantic explosions. Actually, I might have lied about that last item.”

“When I made Brazil in 1984, I was trying to paint a picture of the world I thought we were living in then. The Zero Theorem is a glimpse of the world I think we are living in now.”

Of course this movie has a gorgeous, well-written script here adapted likely from the writer’s own paranoid (but justified) fears of an ever-emerging ‘Technocracy.’ (Ignore The New York Times’ puke-warm pan of Zero Theorem, ps.)

Like any great director, Terry Gilliam goes overboard with praise for his screenwriter.

“Pat Rushin’s script intrigued me with the many pertinent questions raised in his funny, philosophic and touching tale. For example: What gives meaning to our lives, brings us happiness? Can we ever find solitude in an increasingly connected, constricted world? Is that world under control or simply chaotic?”

“We’ve tried to make a film that is honest, funny, beautiful, smart and surprising; a simple film about a complex modern man waiting for a call to give meaning to his life; about inescapable relationships and the longing for love, peopled with captivating characters, mouthfuls of wise and witty dialogue; raising questions without offering easy answers.”

Technically completed in 2013, The Zero Theorem based on numbers, as far as release date, has had a limit roll-out in 2014. First abroad early in 2014, with a mid September US run. 

Hopefully it looks to be eligible for Oscar contention, because as far as acting for Christoph Waltz, Tilda Swinton, and David Tewlis, plus directing for Terry Gilliam and screenplay for Pat Rushin, it should be recognized. Not to mention the VFX category, and if they gave out Oscars for Best Imaginative Relevant Social Commentary - it would be a shoo in.

So let’s give the director the last word here, in hopes that he can convince you to vote with your money and see it.

“Having not worked with a budget this small for several decades, I was forced to work fast and instinctively, pressured only by the lack of time and money.”

“We relied on the freedom to spin on a dime, to make outrageous creative leaps. The results surprised even me. I’m proud to have been part of The Zero Theorem,” said Terry Gilliam, as he signed off his final welcome to this film.


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