Terry Gilliam has built a career on successfully combining elements of science fiction and fantasy with social satire. Whenever he comes out with a film, sci-fi fans perk up in anticipation of his latest offering. Gilliam’s newest film, The Zero Theorem, the 72-year-old’s first film in more than four years, is no different, though it harkens back to one of his earlier classics, Brazil.
In an interview with SFX, Gilliam talked about The Zero Theorem and how it’s closely tied to his 1985 film Brazil. Sam Lowry (Jonathan Price), the main character in the earlier film, bears a striking resemblance to Qohen Leth, played by Christoph Waltz in his latest. Both films take place in a dystopian world, playing up Orwellian themes. At times The Zero Theorem is an update, one that includes social media and the Internet as obstacles human connection. Gilliam explained:
I think Zero Theorem is vaguely related to Brazil in that it tries to deal with the madness of the world in 2013. Through the Internet and smartphones we are overwhelmed with connectivity and information… most of it irrelevant but nevertheless invasive and crushing. How many of us can actually be alone anymore?
Gilliam continued to talk about the smaller scale of the film in comparison to the likes of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, 12 Monkeys, and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Even though the budget was considerably less this time out, Gilliam was still able to tell the story he wanted. Gilliam continued:
Zero Theorem was made on a budget smaller than anything I had worked on since Time Bandits…There is a claustrophobia in the film that is battered away by the entry of a very few characters. It’s how a man rediscovers his humanity.
Thus far, The Zero Theorem is getting a mixed critical response from film critics. It premiered at this year’s Venice Film Festival and currently holds a 55% “rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Gilliam’s films frequently don’t catch on with critics or audiences until years after their release. Although the film is held in high esteem today, the critical and popular response to Brazil was also widely mixed. Some critics described the film as too hard to follow, while others felt it was a perfect satire. Needless to say, Gilliam movies are an acquired taste. Just getting the film into theaters was a Herculean task, and the strange, epic battle between the director and studio executives is chronicled in the book The Battle of Brazil.
The Zero Theorem is a sci-fi/fantasy genre hybrid that takes place in a futuristic society where intrusive “man-cams” watch your every move. The government is headed by a mysterious figure called “Management” (Matt Damon) who oversees and controls everything. Qohen Leth, a reclusive computer genius, is working on a formula to solve the mysteries of life and existence, but he is constantly distracted from his work by the seductive and sexy Bainsley (Mélanie Thierry) and Management’s son, Bob (Lucas Hedges).
Gilliam’s latest also stars Sanjeev Bhaskar, Peter Stormare, Ben Whishaw, Dana Rogoz, Emil Hostina, and Tilda Swinton, and hits theaters on December 20.