The circus parade of Terry Gilliam's mind got marching at a time when the public's runaway paranoid fantasies could only be stimulated by fresh-baked visual imagery. Obliging both, the director made a few masterpieces -- "Brazil," to name the most obvious example. For the last few years, however, it has become more and more difficult for Gilliam to get a movie made, much less out, and "The Zero Theorem," his latest anti-authoritarian dystopic nightmare, gives one the sense that the ex-Monty Python-ite thinks he's at a filmmaker version of the Last Chance Saloon, manufacturing and recycling as fast as he can.
Christoph Waltz, the most talented German-accented performer to hit Hollywood since Marlene Dietrich, is Gilliam's tortured hacker/data cruncher Qohen Leth, a tormented soul who refers to himself in the plural and has been trying to prove out the corporate philosophy of the omniscient Management -- namely, that everything adds up to nothing. Qohen can never find a formula that works. Plus, he's distracted, waiting for his call -- he once got someone on the line who was going to tell him what life meant. But he dropped the receiver. Will they ever call back? He's a one-man "Waiting for Godot," with a side order of Kafka. And Orwell. And, by the way, pre-"Zero Theorem" Gilliam.
Qohen has his heart broken by Bainsley (Mélanie Thierry), a better-than-virtual call girl whom Management has sent to distract him, and is visited in his ruined gothic church-cum-war-room by Bob (Lucas Hedges), the son of Management (Matt Damon), who clues Qohen into a lot of what he's been missing. Qohen's psychiatrist Dr. Shrink-Rom is played by a toothy Tilda Swinton, who's quite mad. Bainsley does take Qohen to a virtual beach, although Gilliam uses the real world when he can, rather than CGI, and what results is a post-apocalyptic dreamscape that really should have been more fun than it is, rather than a pastel-hued drag.
PLOT A computer hacker in a dystopic future is harried into madness.
RATING R (vulgarity, adult content, nudity)
CAST Christoph Waltz, Mélanie Thierry, Tilda Swinton, David Thewlis, Lucas Hedges
BOTTOM LINE Too obvious to be Terry Gilliam, and yet . . .