The futureworld of The Zero Theorem is so chaotic, gaudy, aggressively high-tech, and lonely—and not much of a stretch from where we’re heading—that it’s no wonder Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) wants to stay indoors permanently. The Gollum-like Qohen (that’s Co-hen)—all neuroses and no hair, and even prone to referring to himself as “we”—is a corporate number cruncher so skilled that he is granted permission to work from home, a cavernous former church he shares with pigeons, rats, and many layers of dust, tasked with solving the unsolvable title equation, pertaining to the meaning of life.
But, as it turns out, there’s not much peace to be had in Qohen’s hideaway either. This empty, socially inept man’s world—both real and virtual—is regularly disrupted by a collection of amusing weirdos, including, most notably, his weaselly superior (David Thewlis) and the big boss’s obnoxious yet ultra-likeable genius teenage son (Lucas Hedges) who’s sent in to assist Qohen. (The considerable screen chemistry between Waltz and Hedges makes for some of the film’s best scenes.) The women, however, don’t fare quite so well: Mélanie Thierry as the “love interest” is relegated to looking like a human sex doll, while Tilda Swinton, playing “odd” yet again, is cringe-worthy as Qohen’s invasive digital psychiatrist.
The Zero Theorem is very much a Terry Gilliam film: fantastical, kooky, occasionally sloppy, but with a big brain and a beating heart. And like most of his work, it won’t appeal to all, but its unmistakable passion makes it well worth the while.