The Zero Theorem (2013)

(On Cable TV, December 2014) I actually had big hopes for this film.  Director Terry Gilliam is a true iconoclast, and his filmography contains a number of classics.  But then again, his filmography is also filled with less-successful material and lengthy pauses between projects.  Alas, The Zero Theorem doesn’t qualify as a success: While thematically ambitious and as visually intriguing as most of his other projects, this science-fiction film unfolds without rigor, letting its excesses run wild while not ensuring that the basic demands of the plot are met.  There are moment of wit (including a gigantic sign telling park visitors what not to do in great detail) and intriguing characters: Christoph Waltz is good in a nearly-unrecognizable role, whereas Mélanie Thierry makes for an unconventional romantic interest; Matt Damon and Tilda Swinton are unexpectedly fun in small roles.  Still, The Zero Theorem’s existentialist musings quickly devolve into pure incomprehensible yadda-yadda, choosing pretention over substance.  The story has tone issues that the film’s manic design only makes worse, while the conclusion doesn’t do much to bring all of the separate plot threads into a satisfying conclusion.  It’s a film best appreciated (and then again, not that much) by cinephiles and Gilliam completists rather than general audiences who will watch it and shrug: The Zero Theorem ends by disproving itself.

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