Terry Gilliam’s Zero Theorem is the upcoming movie that I’m most excited about. Notice how I give no reasons in that sentence? That’s because if you need to be told reasons why you should be excited about a Terry Gilliam film, you aren’t going to understand why you should be anyway.
Case in point: the early reviews. The film has only a couple dozen very early reviews by people who get sent stuff like early releases and do things like go to film festivals. They are split down the middle between people loathing it and people loving it. And in all those reviews, the reasons some love it are exactly the same reasons being given by those who hate it. Gilliam’s not a director, he’s an intellectual lifestyle.
Here’s the trailer:
It reminds me visually of Brazil and gives a vibe similar to Pi. These are good things. Plus there’s Christoph Waltz, so you really can’t go wrong.
But what it really reminds me of is Nietzsche, and of the ancient debate over the Eternal Return, one of those gorgeous philosophical arguments that ended up being deeply relevant to modern physics. See, the argument is over whether time is linear or circular (and the flatness of the circle isn’t necessarily the point, True Detective fans), and in modern physics one of the great questions is whether the universe will expand forever or fall back in on itself. If the answer is the former, the universe itself is linear, tapering off into infinity and gradually deteriorating into heat death. If it’s the latter, the universe is circular, and will be annihilated as it slams back together, but then a new universe will be born in a new Big Bang.
Nietzsche himself warred with this philosophically, arguing that “The law of conservation of energy demands eternal recurrence.” And Waltz’s character in Zero Theorem is presented as essentially a stand in for Nietzsche, trying to prove mathematically that everything collapses back to zero, the so-called Big Crunch. It’s a fantastic starting point for a film of deep thoughts, especially for someone with the manic vision of Gilliam.
There’s a wonderful nuance here of tension that I hope makes it into the film. Because while the Big Crunch means that nothing we do matters, that everything ever built will die in the end in fire, it also gives us hope. Because it means that we (the metaphorical ‘we’) start over again. That instead of persisting in grey immortality, our universe is born again. There is no life without death, and so proving that our universe is destined for death is perhaps the most profound statement of hope imaginable, once we can see past the grief.