Sunday, 27 July 2014

The Zero Theorem: Thoughts … 

I should emphasise I reveal something of The Zero Theorem’s climax in this post.   If you’re bothered by that, then please, only read this post after you’ve watched the film.   I think the post, and the film, will repay you for that.
26th July, 2014: 23·34

Right at the moment … ?

Right at the moment, I’m convinced that — out there in the teeming places we call the multiverse — is a universe that smells of fish.

It’s exactly like ours in all aspects.

The same physical laws.

Its history is identical to ours.

Hell, if you look out of its equivalent of your front room window, the view will be exactly the same as it is in our universe.

There’s just one difference between here and there.

It smells of fish.

Slightly off salmon, if my imagination’s correct.

That’s possibly the most irreverent way to start a post about a film.

And possibly irrelevant, too.

But it’s also the sort of idea I get on especially hot and sweaty evenings, sometimes.

It’s one that’s telling me I should have a shower.   I’m nearer my armpits, in this weather, than you are.

It’s not necessarily nice … 


No, now I think about it … ?

I think we can say that starting a post, discussing a rotting-salmon-scented universe … ?

Is definitely a good way to convince you that I’m either a high-order genius.

Or — more probably, I hear you think — slightly mad.

To the point of dribbling at the first excuse.

Take me as you find me, I say.

At ANY rate … ?

At any rate, it’s a somewhat off-beat way to start a post.

If not downright tangential.

But … ?

But that’s actually ok.

No, really.

Especially when you’re talking about a man some will tell you is possibly the most off-beat director anyone ever put on the planet.

A man I last saw on Sunday, when he, and what was left of the troop that he first found fame with, were streaming their most recent live gig to cinemas around the country.

The team … were the remaining members of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

The director … ?

Was and is Terry Gilliam.

The film of his I’ve managed to rustle up, tonight … ?

Is his most recent.

The 2014 iTunes release that is … The Zero Theorem.

And saying I’ve had thoughts about it … ?

Is possibly understating it …


27th July, 2014.

Thoughts, yeah …

Oh, lord, yeah, thoughts …

And possibly quite a few, about The Zero Theorem, since last night.

But let me try and sum the thing up, if I can.


Set in one of Gilliam’s candy coloured futures, The Zero Theorem follows Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz): a reclusive computer hacker who is bored by his job: and who wants to work from home, so he can wait for a much anticipated call.

Christoph Waltz as Qohen Leth

One day, though … ?

One day, his supervisor, Joby (David Thewlis)*, makes him the offer that will let him.

David Thewlis as Mr Joby
The Management (Matt Damon) want Leth to work — at home — on the fiendishly complicated Zero Theorem: in order to prove that everything really IS meaningless.

Matt Damon as The Management
He’ll be well paid, of course: he’ll get a home-based electronic course of psychotherapy from Dr Shrink-Rom (Tilda Swinton†), he’ll get hardware help from Bob (Lucas Hedges) … and … emotional support from Bainsley (Mélanie Thierry.)

Tilda Swinton as Dr Shrink-Rom

Lucas Hedges as Bob

Mélanie Thierry as Bainsley

All that …

And all he has to do keep uploading his crunched results: and stop worrying about the nightmares he’s having about black holes … 

A Menacing Black Hole.

Now …

Thoughts … ?

I’m possibly having plenty about The Zero Theorem.

If anything can be described as straight-forward — occasionally — it’s a movie.

It is, after all, a bunch of cameras, actors, crew writer, a director and assorted hangers-on, gathered together to tell the likes of you and me a story.

The thoughts, arguments and discussions all start … ?

When we’re trying to work out if what we’ve seen is …
  • Any good.
  • Art.
  • Entertainment.
  • A director who’s repeating himself.
Personally … ?

Personally, I’ve come to feel that Gilliam‡’s work is definitely good.

Definitely entertaining.

Quite probably high art.

And yes: Gilliam may be repeating certain things.   A bald headed hero.   The look and feel of a future. Odd versions of well known songs.

But … ?   With The Zero Theorem, I’m ALSO thinking there’s a decided measure of food-for-thought thrown into the mix.

Christoph Waltz’s central character ends the movie sacrificing himself to the information black-hole that’s generated by feeding the final pieces of the Theorem — and a hammer — into the Management’s central mainframe.

Ending up in the computer generated island that he’d earlier shared with Bainsley.

I think we could personally have a whole world of fun, there.

Arguing whether Leth’s finished in JUST a virtual heaven he’s mentally prepared — or had prepared — earlier.

Or whether he’s finished up in a real heaven: having disproved the Zero Theorem — and providing meaning to his life — by his sacrifice.

An argument that could well run and run: as religious arguments have for centuries.

There’s ALSO the final shot of film, just at the end of the credits.

Through-out the film, we’re made very aware that — in a Big Brothery touch worthy of modern Britain, and Gilliam’s own piece, Brazil — that surveillance cameras have been installed in Leth’s home: an abandoned church^.

One of those cameras is on the neck of a decapitated figure of Christ: one that Leth destroys in a fit of rage.

Only for its image to reappear at the end of the film.

Christ As Camera.

The simple fact that we’re talking about Christ as Camera will lead to huge arguments.

The equally simple fact it reappears at the end of the film — watching us, stare at it — is going to give us thought.

About what we call God.

About who — or what — we worship.

About what, in this media frenzy world of ours, we call belief.

And whether the Zero Theorem, in Gilliam’s twisted take on the idea, is correct.

Whether life means nothing.

Or everything.

I don’t know that I could tell you.

Or should.

Either way … ?

I think I need to open my windows.

My flat has a persistent smell of salmon, for some reason …
The Zero Theorem

*        For some reason, I keep wondering what Michael Palin would’ve done with this part.   No, really: I kept imaging the part as Michael Palin, playing David Thewlis, playing Mr Joby.   Why … ?   I really don’t know.   But if you’ve watched the film and don’t agree?   Or if you’ve watched the film and take my point … ?   Feel free to say something … !

†        Completely unrecognisable in the wig and spectacles, I should add.   Which is why they call it acting, obviously …

‡        There’s some I’ve seen: but I’m blowed if I’ve written about, here.   I‘ve seen 12 Monkeys, for example: and Brazil.   Frankly, I think I’d want to see both, again, before posting about them.

^        I owe a personal vote of thanks for Gilliam’s design work.   The look of his films has always been un-touchable: with The Zero Theorem being no different.   I felt Leth’s homeª was possibly the furthest removed from Gilliam’s other work: as I found it to be very Escheresque.   Or as Escheresque as it could be, without breaking the laws of physics … or the budget.

ª        It’s hard to explain … but I felt that, just as with some of Escher’s work, if we viewers went around one column in Leth’s front room … we would end up on the other side of the room … or possibly in the toilet … or kitchen … or something … um … 

1 comment:

Nik Nak said...

You know, I’ve only just double-checked: and managed to find a visual reference.

As you know, I know a little — a VERY little — of the work done at Bletchley Park by UK government cryptologists, during WW2.

If you look at the picture at the start of this post — of Qohen Leth at work on his home work station — you’ll see the cabinet at the side: of what look like rotating cylinders.

I don’t think it’s based on the Bombes used at Bletchley.

I know it for a fact.