It’s nice to see the return of Terry Gilliam. His films offer us a unique perspective of the world. One that is obtuse and obscure and always at a slant. The world that his characters inhabit, and the fantasy world that his characters dream up, are both surreal places, giving us a brief glimpse inside the mind of this madman. We can try to explain Gilliam’s ideas, to find a logical explanation for them and what they mean, but it’s like trying to solve an impossible algorithm or theorem. Sometimes, there is no discernible explanation. Sometimes I don’t think even Terry Gilliam has an explanation. There is only what we see and feel. We are who we are, and Gilliam is who he is. Why try to figure it out and complicate matters. Just simply “be”, and allow Gilliam’s films to “be”. It’ll make the world a much happier place.
“To be, or to try to find the mathematical reason for being…?” That is the question posed to Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) in The Zero Theorem. He is a computer programmer, or game designer, or maybe even a hacker. It’s all very unclear as to what Leth does for a living. Whatever it is that he does, while employed to the overbearing Mancom, the work is beneath his tremendous intellect. Leth is poised upon the edge of a fantastic breakthrough that will define who he is and his purpose in this world. Everyone else in the world is unimportant to him. They are soulless idiots and distractions to his genius and undeserving of his attention or conversation. Therefore, Leth proposes to the Management that he be allowed to continue his work at home, where he can be free of distraction and focus on what’s really important. But what’s really important, is not at all important to Leth. He’s missing the big picture. It’s slipping right past him, while staring him directly in the face. His intellect has only caused him hurt and frustration and made him the soulless idiot. He could not be a bigger fool even if he tried.
The Zero Theorem is an existential story. One that’s been explained countless times before: a man in search of his identity and his meaning for being. However, Terry Gilliam tackles this premise with his unique perspective of the world. The film shows us a futuristic world in which we are surrounded by constant interruptions. Anyone that lives in a metropolitan area knows what this feels like. It’s nearly impossible to walk or drive down the street without some kind of advertisement lurching out at you and trying to grab a hold of your attention. Sometimes, it can be other people, with their ridiculous clothing and fashion statements, that jump out at you and say, “Look at me!”. Gilliam presents this to us whenever poor Leth goes outside of his home. I can understand his reasons for wanting to remain a recluse, stuck inside his cathedral-turned-apartment. I can even sympathize with the man because I too feel bombarded by soulless idiots when I go out my front door.
But Qohen Leth (and myself) are not seeing beyond the facade. Inside of each person is something that makes them unique and human. It is easy to cast judgement and say that the woman wearing those ridiculous high heels and carrying an umbrella on a hot day is a fool, but we might be missing the bigger picture. We have not taken the time to know the person inside the facade. That’s what Qohen Leth learns when he befriends his coworkers. He finds that there is a human being inside that ridiculous outer shell, with real human-like emotions that supersede his goal of discovering the meaning of existence. Who cares about the bigger questions, they cannot be answered. Focus your attention on the smaller ones, and make your life less complicated. Poor Qohen Leth had to learn this the hard way.