As remittance for his infinite pencil-pushing, Leth’s shadowy superiors – referred to only as “Management” – send a wily teenager and lusty love interest to distract Qohen from gaining the answers he believes will emancipate him from his pointless existence. It’s a coarse and jittery pastiche of a future society not far removed from our own. The bittersweet, End of Days aesthetic amidst a story that seems to sprawl without a clearcut destiny adds a claustrophobic ambience; like a prison cell without an escape route. Much like Darren Aronofsky’s Pi (1998), coders seek sanctuary in their quests to unravel the equation to the human condition. Unfathomable questions are pondered – none of which anyone can ever hope to truly answer.
Gilliam’s characters drone on endlessly, deciphering the unknown without any submission from the oddball powers of Management. Limited yet chromatic set designs coupled with adroit acting bring taste to the caper. Waltz plays the crazed computer serf Leth with exemplary control, whilst David Thewlis resuscitates a perfect caricature of the semi-maniacal worker bee figure (akin to that of Michael Palin’s barbaric bureaucrat Jack Lint in Brazil). Bizarrely cheeky cameos from Tilda Swinton as a malfunctioning, buck-toothed psychiatrist, and Matt Damon as the omnipresent personification of corporate management make for two genuinely winning additions to the malaise.
There’s no denying that The Zero Theorem is a heedless, intelligent melange of politics and pantomime. Furthermore, it’s evident that Gilliam’s own personal gripes with our endlessly confusing existence are gradually fabricating to resemble the director’s idiosyncratic perceptions. Now, more than ever, does a film like his latest odd offering seem closer to the truth than that of previous depictions of our apocalyptic afterlives. Unfortunately, however, with the resolute importance of Brazil’s world eclipsing his vision, Gilliam has again failed to escape from his own allegorical fantasies. Don’t call it a comeback.