Terry Gilliam’s first film since the ill-fated, but enjoyable Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Zero Theorem showcases the former Python animator’s uniquely discordant worldview, as well as confirming Christoph Waltz as a supreme resource for any talented director.
The bald-headed, hunched-over, strangely grotesque Qohen is light years away from the smooth Hans Landa or charming Schultz. We first see him naked and fetal, orbiting the mouth of a star-guzzling black hole. Set in a vaguely satirical dystopia – Qohen is followed down the street by cajoling advertisements, including one for the Church of Batman the Redeemer – there are definite parallels with Gilliam’s previous work.
There are the same officious caricatures – substitute a twitchy, beleaguered David Thewlis’ for Michael Palin’s smiley sociopath in Brazil – and similar themes – Qohen’s sensual cyber-space liaisons with Mèlanie Thierry’s Manic Pixie Call Girl pose whether fantasy can overcome existential angst a la The Fisher King – but Zero Theorem is simply over-packed.
Bursting with ideas and talent – Ben Whishaw, Peter Stormare, Sanjeev Bhaskar, and a barely recognizable Tilda Swinton all make appearances – Zero Theorem is just not quite magical enough. Still, with a less scattershot approach and more coherence, latter-years Gilliam might yet reclaim his crown as the king of imaginative, surrealist SF/fantasy.