New To Blu: The Zero Theorem

The Zero Theorem hit blu-ray last week. Here's Andrew's review of Gilliam's latest. 

"Damn. It's cold out here in space.
Someone get me some hot chocolate."
Terry Gilliam is back with The Zero Theorem and the results are stunningly beautiful to look at!  Widely considered to be the third entry of his loosely formed dystopian science fiction triptych which began with Brazil before continuing with 12 Monkeys, Gilliam has delivered one of his prettiest and most exciting films in recent memory, more than atoning for the sins committed by The Brothers Grimm and Tideland.   All of the tropes people have come to expect from Gilliam’s canted, fish eye lensed worldview full of sensory overload tinged with just a hint of wacky surrealism are there.  Where his last few pictures contained a distancing factor placing a wedge between the viewer and the material, The Zero Theorem draws you in almost immediately.  This could be Gilliam’s Blade Runner crossed with The Fountain in more ways than one.

Full of brilliant kaleidoscopic colors, dazzling visual effects and some of the most inventive costume design of any of Gilliam’s films, The Zero Theorem is sheer eye candy.  Gilliam’s trademark use of wide angle lenses and canted angles are immediately recognizable, but in the case of The Zero Theorem, Gilliam has taken the cinematographic process a bit further than he has before.  One of the most unique visual aspects people will notice is the framing of the image, which is rounded at the edges.  This is because Gilliam shot the film in the newly developed Maxivision format, which resembled the look of an early Vitaphone serial when theatrical projection wasn’t advanced enough to hide the rounded edges of the projector.  The result looks something like a vintage throwback to a bygone era of film capture with a modern, futuristic feel, in a way touching on the past and present simultaneously.  After shooting Tideland in Super 35 widescreen scope only to have the image open matted due to mishandling of the material in the US, Gilliam took the Kubrick route by vowing everyone would see The Zero Theorem as he saw it through the viewfinder. 

"What do you think? I matched
my hair to this comfy chair?"
In terms of acting, Christoph Waltz provides a performance as you’ve never seen him before, not unlike Sean Gullette’s paranoid mathematician (named Max Cohen incidentally) in Darren Aronofsky’s π.  You’re drawn into the eccentric worldview of Qohen and share with him his quirky fears of the world, women, and increasing withdrawal from those around him.  Matt Damon, Peter Stormare and Tilda Swinton provide entertaining cameos adorned in Gilliam’s bizarre futurist costume design, but the film is primarily a character study of Christoph Waltz’s Qohen and his tightrope walk between accepting life or rejecting it to dive further into cyberspace.

Overall, The Zero Theorem isn’t for all tastes.  More keenly interested in true science fiction than creating an action premise within the framework of science fiction, this is Gilliam’s most cerebral work since 12 Monkeys, posing more questions than providing answers.  The archaic Maxivision look will confuse some viewers wondering why the edges of the image are rounded off and it goes without saying it’s nowhere near the heights reached by Gilliam’s Brazil.  Still, in the era of modern science fiction, The Zero Theorem is far more concerned with ideas than explosions and functions as a loose conclusion to Gilliam’s dystopian futurist trilogy.  If nothing else, it’s a real visual treat for the senses!

-Andrew Kotwicki