Maths and a Black Hole: The Zero Theorem
The Zero Theorem is the third film of Gilliam's dystopian satire trilogy that started in 1985 with the glorious Brazil – I must admit it, one of my favourite films – and continued with 12 Monkeys.
In a dystopian future, Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) is a social outcast who works as a programmer for a company called Mancom. He loathes the loud and colourful outside world and cannot stand spending his time at work, since he is feverishly waiting for a phone call that he is convinced will give him a purpose in life.
Qohen is a very unique character – hairless, dressed in black; he doesn’t eat or drink anything that has any flavour. More importantly, he uses the first person plural when talking about himself. It might be confusing at first, but such oddity underlines the peculiarity of his character, just as with his first appearance, in which he sees a black hole in the mirror.
Qohen’s “we” sounds like an awareness that the self contains a plurality. Another interpretation might be that he stands for us viewers, pushing empathy to a new level, as we are out of place as he is in this insane future. As a matter of fact, it is easy to feel sympathy for his character, and Christoph Waltz’s performance makes it feel complete and human.
The Zero Theorem is the third film of Gilliam’s dystopian satire trilogy that started in 1985 with the glorious Brazil – I must admit it, one of my favourite films – and continued with 12 Monkeys. Like Brazil, The Zero Theorem contains several references to 1984 – cameras everywhere, with an underlying smothering feeling of being observed. In addition, Qohen is waiting for his phone call just like Vladimir and Estragon are waiting for Godot in Becket’s theatrical piece.
The future created by Gilliam is lively and realistic in its hyperboles.
Ads chase you in the street and, while everything is prohibited in reality, anything is allowed on a virtual interface. Gilliam shows his true talent in building a setting and a whole environment that is plausible and absurd at the same time.
So, how can Qohen believe he is going to receive his phone call? Well, he can. He is an outsider, not because he cannot enjoy life as everybody else does, but because he seems to be the only one left to have faith in something.
Let’s not forget that, after all, his name is an open reference to the book of Ecclesiastes, “Kohelet” in Hebrew, one of the books of the Tanakh.
However, his back-breaking job at the computer is to crack an equation that has to eventually equal 0 to 100 – exposing the (anti-) spiritual implications of mathematics – and to prove that «Everything adds up to nothing».
That is, life has no meaning.
And the strangest and most humane thing about Qohen is that he doesn’t know or care what this equation is for.
How many of us live our lives the same way?
Director: Terry Gilliam
Writers: Pat Rushin, Terry Gilliam
Cast: Christoph Waltz, Lucas Hedges, Mélanie Thierry, David Thewlis, Matt Damon