One look at the trailer for Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem and you’ve forgotten about the overly slick and silly attempts to dazzle us with dystopias other directors have tried to bring us in the past few years. Terry Gilliam, who brought us Brazil in 1985 and Twelve Monkeys ten years later, has revisited his gritty, surreal, and mesmerizing take on the George Orwell adaptation, and excitement should reign through the land. If the trailer is any indication of what’s in store, then we’re in for a wild ride, the likes of which only Gilliam can imagine.
The Zero Theorem, which has garnered some beautiful acclaim so far prior to coming out in the states, follows Qohen Leth, a programming genius, as he searches for the meaning of life while dealing with visits from a mysterious woman, Bainsley, doctors and shrinks, and an enigmatic totalitarian figure only known to viewers as the “Management.” Fundamentally, it’s a comedic and tragic tale exploring the utter meaningless of the universe (probably) with Gilliam designing the world around a well-chosen cast of actors. It’s going to be massive.
What’s known about the story is available online; iTunes has a pretty good synopsis of the story, as well as an exclusive trailer (they’ll be releasing the film on Apple’s monolithic mp3 service a month before the cinematic release date). The trailer in question doesn’t reveal a whole lot more than what is known–Leth frantically crunches numbers and lots of amazing visuals happen–but does give us a glimpse into the madness that is to ensue. A few shots look very reminiscent of Brazil, and Gilliam’s flare for outrageous costumes and sets is very evident.
The most promising part of the film, though, is its star. Qohen Leth is played by Christoph Waltz, who we all know best as a terrifying Nazi strategist as well as a friendly but lethal bounty hunter. Here he’s been given the biggest challenge yet, playing the eccentric and twitchy Leth sans any hair at all (his eyebrows are even shaved). If the trailer is any indication, then we’ve happened upon Waltz’s most transcendent role yet. Joining him on Gilliam’s insane stage are Mélanie Thierry, a French actress known for 2008’s Babylon A.D., David Thewlis, an English actor who definitely didn’t get enough lines as Remus Lupin in the Harry Potter films, Matt Damon, who needs no explanation, and the eminent Tilda Swinton, who always appears in films and you’re like, “wait, that was Tilda Swinton? Awesome.”
Basically, after a long time off the dystopian bandwagon, Gilliam is returning to form to give a little edge, tragedy, and cosmically dark humor to science fiction in Hollywood. After the disappointing The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009), it’s good to see the master director and storyteller adding to the dystopian discourse again. The trailer is rather wacky, but the two minutes we get don’t look as completely, groundlessly mad as Parnassus turned out to be. There seems to be the same complexity and depiction of a truly messed up future that made Brazil such a terrifying and great film. And Waltz’s two minutes absolutely sells the film; his mad performance will bring you back to the trailer at least once a day till the film comes out.
If you’re a longtime fan of Gilliam, despite Parnassus and Tideland (2005), then the trailer for The Zero Theorem is a pretty concrete promise of brilliance we’ve not had the chance to see in quite some time. Although the approval rating across the net, from those who’ve seen the film before the American release, could be better, the trailer, and faith in Gilliam’s command over science fiction and dystopias, gives us firm hope that the third flick in a crazy trilogy of crippling hopelessness will be one of Gilliam’s best ever.