A Movie that May Help You Answer the Question – What is the Meaning of Life?
Terry Gilliam’s Zero Theorem
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What is the meaning of life, and how can you use technology to gain that knowledge?
Q. Lewis, is there a way to use movies to not only motivate, educate, and inspire but to actually change a person’s life?
A. I believe so. We all look for meaning in things and movies often help us see meaning where we didn’t before. I am actually working on a book titled “100 Films that Will Change Your Life.” Here is an entry from the book about the movie “The Zero Theorm.”
A Movie That Will Change your Life
The Zero Theorem
Watch The Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rae7_O_6EtU
- Genre: Tech Emmersed Existential Absurdist, Philosophical Science Fiction
- Director: Terry Gilliam
- Cast: Lucas Hedges, Tilda Swinton, Matt Damon
- Running time: 111 Minutes
- Language: English
- Color: Yes
Qohen Leth, an eccentric programmer who refers to himself in the plural, is assigned to “crunch entities” for a company named Mancom. Finding himself suffering existential angst, Qohen constantly waits for a phone call, hoping that it might bring him happiness or the answers he seeks. When Qohen requests a “disability” evaluation, three company doctors determine that he is physically healthy, but require he have therapy from Dr Shrink-ROM, an AI therapist designed to provide mental evaluation. Wanting to meet with “Management”, Qohen attends a party held by his supervisor, Joby. Stumbling into an empty room, Qohen finds Management and requests to work from home, as he would be more productive and would no longer risk missing his call; Management simply notes he finds Qohen “quite insane,” but later grants his request. Qohen is pressed into staying at the party by Joby, but chokes on an olive and is rescued by Bainsley, a partygoer.
As he begins working from home, Qohen is required to order the data of the Neural Net Mancrive, a massive supercomputer that contains all of the entities crunched by workers, with the goal of solving the “Zero Theorem”, a mysterious mathematical formula. Qohen spends months as a hermit working on the program, during which he is diagnosed with multiple conditions by Shrink-ROM and begins experiencing nightmares involving a black hole.
Frustrated with his work, Qohen smashes his computer with a hammer, and is soon visited by Bainsley. Qohen confides in Bainsley that he believes he accidentally hung up a call that would have given him the meaning of life, and has desperately been waiting for a call-back ever since. Qohen is then visited by Bob, the teenage son of Management. Bob repairs his computer, reveals Management is spying on him, and suggests that Bainsley is only interested in Qohen because she is paid to be. Bob promises to get Qohen his call if he continues working on the Zero Theorem. Having received a VR suit from Bainsley, Qohen interacts with her through virtual reality, which makes them both appear on a beach together. When Qohen asks if the sun in the horizon ever sets, Bainsley responds it is not programmed to do so. They soon kiss one another.
Bob visits Qohen again and tells him that the Zero Theorem aims to prove life is meaningless through the Big Crunch theory. Digitally connecting to Bainsley again, Qohen is comforted by her, but when he denounces Management and suggests eloping together, she forcefully disconnects, damaging Qohen’s suit. When Bob takes his suit to repair it, Qohen connects to Bainsley unannounced, only to discover she is a webcam stripper. Bob returns with Qohen’s suit, now repaired, and reveals Qohen’s phone call is only a delusion, and admits his Dr. Shrink-ROM was only designed to identify his pathology rather than treat it. Bainsley visits Qohen and apologizes for deceiving him, claiming she truly fell in love with him. Despite Bainsley’s offer to elope, which is encouraged by Bob, Qohen turns her down.
Qohen discovers Bob’s health is radically declining. While caring for Bob, Qohen begins to uncover and smash Management’s cameras hidden throughout his home, after which Management employees break in and take Bob away. Joby is fired by management as a result of this and visits Qohen to berate him. Qohen dons his now “repaired” virtual reality suit and connects to his computer, but is nearly electrocuted.
Appearing at the Neural Net Mancrive, Qohen is greeted by an image of Management, who tells him that Bob is hospitalized due to a chronic illness. Management explains that Qohen is now part of the Neural Net, there is no meaning of life, and there was never a higher power able to grant Qohen his call. Management explains that while the Zero Theorem would prove that everything is meaningless, the entire purpose of Mancom in “crunching entities” was to bring order to disorder, finding meaning in some form that he could sell.
There is more to come but I won’t give away the ending, for in the end there may be a meaning to it all…or not.
Further Thoughts on Zero Theorem
Pat Rushin, the screenwriter of the film was inspired by vanitas of Ecclesiastes 1:2; 12:8 to write the film (the Hebrew title of which is קֹהֶלֶת, Qoheleth, meaning “Gatherer”, but traditionally translated as “Teacher” or “Preacher”), which he felt suggested such questions as “What is the value of life? What is the meaning of existence? What’s the use?” Rushin wrote the 145-page first draft in ten days, with “no idea what [he] was doing”. He checked several screenwriting books and screenplays out of the UCF library, including Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.
Gilliam has given conflicting statements about whether his personal view is that the film serves as the third part of a satirical dystopian trilogy or “Orwellian triptych” begun with 1985’s Brazil and continued with 1995’s 12 Monkeys
Since Gilliam faced frustrations over the correct aspect ratio on home video releases of his earlier film Tideland (2005), The Zero Theorem was shot in the Maxivision format with an 1:1.85 aspect ratio, with 16:9 matting and telecine in mind, so Gilliam could be certain that every viewer in the world would see exactly what he had intended them to see in a premeditated 16:9 framing, no matter what device they would use; what Gilliam additionally liked about this technique, which he calls “the first one-size-fits-all, full-frame, semi-vinyl motion picture”, was that it resulted in round edges on frame corners which he found resembled a vintage 1920s movie-going experience when projectors were not yet fitted to hide the camera gate‘s round edges.
On the production process, Gilliam stated: “It’s been one year from start to finish. Most of my movies take three years but this was a fast shoot and it was good to be in Bucharest. I loved the crews and Romanians work very hard and they’re very skilled. Because we had limited funds we were flying people in for the day and back out again. I was knackered by the end of it.”
It seems that most of the critics totally misunderstood what Gilliam was doing here. Commenting on the film’s misrepresentation by critics, Gilliam stated on his official Facebook page that one of the few critics to note that The Zero Theorem was not a comedy, but actually a tragedy, was Dave Lancaster of Cinemas Online in his analysis of the film.
The director commented on the difficulty of producing such a film in the current industry climate: “This was a more modest budget than some of the big effects movies I’ve worked on but it’s going to look so good on the screen. What’s happened is the industry has become very much like society – there are the rich [films] and the cheap ones and the middle-budget films have been squeezed out of existence. You’ve got to get clever and take advantage of your friends who work for scale and work in great places with great crews where you get a bigger bang for your buck.”
If you enjoyed this film you might also enjoy
- 12 Monkeys
- The Fisher King
- My Dinner with Andre
- Modern Times
- Lost Horizen
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