When speaking about his Oscar winning film, ‘The Shape of Water’, Guillermo Del Toro spoke about the power of the medium. He said that sometimes you can feel that ‘this life is not what it is meant to be’ but then a movie comes along ‘and you are saved. That is certainly at play when you watch The Zero Theorem.
Terry Gilliam and Pat Rushin’s 2013 offering tackles tricky themes such as mental health, existential doubt and oppression. However, Gilliam makes the movie’s themes and message digestible with a pleasantly absurd and irreverant world.
Gilliam is preaching free thought with this movie. We can all relate to the feeling of being unhappy with your situation. Many of us can relate to situational mental health problems due to the pressure of society and social media. Gilliam blames a lot of people’s depression on the nanny state, ‘big brother.
The protagonist lives in a world where the oppressive, ‘Management’ are enforcing constant productivity. Like all dystopian works of fiction, the movie’s world echoes our own, exaggerating the issues to highlight them.
However, there is nothing bleak about this movie. Gilliam offers a solution to our problems. The main character is neurotic and unhappy, the people around him are blissfully ignorant. Is there a middle ground? More on that later.
Terry Gilliam uses directing and set design to help convey these themes. Qohen is a sickly shade of white, the world around him, is vibrantly colourful. The other citizens are adorned in colours and extravagant headwear, putting themselves on display like peacocks. This visually represents Qohen’s depression, he does not fit with this world.
As he traverses the streets, gigantic images of lips and eyes from the LED advertisements loom over him. This really illustrates that feeling that the government are watching.
The tilt of the camera from a low position makes the audience understand that feeling of brain fog. His life is oppressive but nonesensical. The technology that he projects so much importance onto all look fake, like toys.
Dream sequence or not, in the finale he leaps into a black hole. He literally embraces nothing, the idea that none of this will matter in the end. Qohen awakens on the beach in a state of perfect peace. In embracing the futility of the government’s constructed world, he sets himself free from it.
The Zero Theorem is a beautiful paradox. The world is zany, the characters discuss lofty concepts in ridiculous glittery lab coats. However, its message is legitimately life affirming.