Words by Kristen Calandra
In a consumerist-driven futuristic dystopia, computer genius Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) is instructed by Management (Matt Damon) to solve the mysterious zero theorem. He is invested in a project that he knows nothing about, nor why he is involved in it; much like the investment of my time in this meaningless film.
Clearly, a lot of trouble has gone into the eclectic set design: a mix of old gothic architecture reminiscent of the reclusive mad scientist, juxtaposed against an elaborately imagined futuristic landscape. But this wonderfully intriguing futuristic world is not explored any further, functioning only as a backdrop.
The promising cast line-up does nothing to help the film. Given his recent chain of success, Waltz’s presence is a particular disappointment, failing to redeem the poorly written character of Qohen.
The film is messy and lacks in a sense of cohesion: from the strange combination of music styles to its simultaneous allusions to science-fiction, fantasy, gothic literature, nostalgic romantic films and George Orwell’s 1984.
With so much potential for nuanced complexity, The Zero Theorem ultimately delivers very little. It tries to be and do a lot of things at once. And unsuccessfully so. It is underdeveloped because it is overambitious.
Just as Qohen faithfully waits for a phone call that will tell him the meaning of life, The Zero Theorem only left me anticipating a moment of enlightenment. So I suppose in an unintentionally ironic way the film is successful: in letting us share in Qohen’s frustration for answers and the consequent emptiness he feels. But it is to the wrong effect.