In Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem, Christoph Waltz plays computer hacker Qohen Leth who spends his time staring at a black hole and waiting for an important phone call. Without friends or any real interest in the outside world, Leth asks Management (Matt Damon) to allow him to work from home to which Management approve as long as Leth solemnly works on a special project: The Zero Theorem. The purpose of the project is to reveal the nothingness of existence and as Leth starts the project, his progression is constantly being halted by a genius boy named Bob (Lucas Hedges) and a seductress named Bainsley (Melanie Thierry).
Full disclosure, I am not a Terry Gilliam fan. I find his movies, minus 12 Monkeys, to be exceedingly boring and an overall annoyance to get through. However, since Christoph Waltz is the lead in The Zero Theorem I thought to myself maybe this one will be worthwhile. I was mistaken obviously. The problem with this film comes down to the protagonist Qohen Leth and that he is uninvolved, apathetic and boring to such an extent that he actively undercuts the film. Here is a character who has a dead-end job, has given up on pretty much everything and sees himself as a totally inadequate entity who also happens to refer to himself in the plural. He is dull and its even duller to watch, especially since the character strips Christoph Waltz of one of his main assets, which is his charisma. It isn’t a bad performance, Waltz is committed to playing the character’s “strengths” which unfortunately make you lose interest in the guy after 15 minutes.
Luckily The Zero Theorem is populated with interesting supporting characters. Leth’s supervisor played by David “Lupin” Thewlis is fun to watch, an impressive feat considering his character could’ve been super annoying in lesser hands. Lucas Hedges is awesome a genius Bob, normally playing the voice of reason which this film desperately needs from time to time. Melanie Thierry is also great in the film and I enjoyed how her character got a small but significant arc. Tilda Swinton pops up as Leth’s therapist and, unsurprisingly, Swinton sells it delivering some truly bizarre and funny moments. Her performance reminded me of Snowpiercer. Lastly is Matt Damon as Management who is, for me, the most enjoyable character. He doesn’t have too much screen-time, but every time he appears it is awesome and interesting. His outfits and his white hair are ridiculous, and he has the best lines in the film.
All of these supporting characters are the reason why watching The Zero Theorem isn’t an entirely regrettable experience. They inhabit Gilliam’s quirky and strange world beautifully, and they seem to be genuinely enjoying themselves. These characters instil the film with a palpable sense energy and intrigue, but whatever they bring is actively being cut down by Christoph Waltz’s Leth. The main protagonist’s overwhelming apathy and dullness effectively kills the film, just like that magnificent and depressing black hole Leth likes to gaze into. The film does have some interesting ideas about existence and how sometimes our belief on a higher purpose makes us take our life for granted. We sometimes are so focused on what comes after death that we neglect ourselves and thus live meaningless existence. Qohen Leth is a testament to that sentiment, so I suppose in that respect The Zero Theorem succeeds. It is still boring and I doubt I’ll remember it in a few months.