Combustible Celluloid
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With: Christoph Waltz, Matt Damon, Mélanie Thierry, David Thewliss, Lucas Hedges, Tilda Swinton, Peter Stormare, Ben Whishaw, Sanjeev Bhaskar
Written by: Pat Rushin
Directed by: Terry Gilliam
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexuality/nudity
Running Time: 107
Date: 09/19/2014

The Zero Theorem (2014)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

All and Nothing

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Terry Gilliam is a visionary director whose huge, personal visions are frequently as fantastic and futuristic as they are unwieldy and difficult to pin down. In short, they are not for everyone, and The Zero Theorem is perhaps one of his more downbeat films, if not also one of his most heartfelt. It explores the clash between being solitary and living with humanity, ridiculing both as much as it finds beauty in both.

Loner Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) works for a big company, but would rather stay in his vast, cavernous, ruined home, where he awaits an important phone call he believes could give him his purpose in life. He strikes a deal with Management (Matt Damon) to work at home if he attempts to solve the "zero theorem," which is to somehow make zero equal 100%.

He begins this bizarre task, interrupted by various visits by the flirty Bainsley (Mélanie Thierry), the cocksure boss's son, teen Bob (Lucas Hedges), his cheerful colleague Joby (David Thewlis), and a "digital therapist" (Tilda Swinton). As Qohen slowly begins to lose focus on his two goals, he begins to wonder if there isn't perhaps something less predictable and more rewarding to life.

Leth's living space is vast, but in ruins, while the outside world is bright and new, but also busy and noisy. Technology usually comes between actual human relationships, but sometimes there are surprises. Gilliam has guided Oscar-nominated performances before, and Christoph Waltz's work here is quite powerful and moving, which helps.

It's a dense film, layered with many ideas and themes, many that require pondering or perhaps a second viewing. Though it comes close in many ways to Gilliam's masterpiece Brazil (1985), it finds its own path. I'm not sure at this moment how it ranks with Gilliam's other work, or how it will age, but I find it interesting to keep thinking back to it. So far it's one of the year's most intriguing movies.

Well Go USA released the 2015 Blu-ray edition. It's fairly skimpy on the extras, with just a handful of short, studio-produced featurettes (the one on the costume design runs the longest, nearly a half hour), plus trailers for this and other Well Go USA releases. The transfer emphasizes the film grain (Gilliam actually shot on film), and the sound is fine. There are optional captions. Overall, though this movie is tragically underrated and very much deserves multiple viewings in high-def.

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