Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Zero Theorem

(UK, Romania, France, USA, 2013)

I didn’t know how a Terry Gilliam film could have come and gone without me even being even aware of it. Then I went to Box Office Mojo, and the answer became apparent. Domestic gross: $257,706. Foreign gross: $513,000. Total earnings: $770,706! The total profits from popcorn in a Star Wars movie would be a lot more than that. I couldn’t find what the budget was, but of course it was in the millions, even though Gilliam claimed it was shot “on the cheap” in Romania. Cheap, these days, for a special effects movie, has to be in the $40- to $50-million-dollar range.

What the hell happened? All I can figure is that it’s Terry Gilliam’s legendary bad luck with distribution. He was barely able to get Brazil into theaters at all, and the battle over Baron Munchausen was even worse. Maybe he’s an asshole who just alienates the money people, or maybe the money people are assholes who just can’t see his genius. I’d prefer the latter explanation, obviously. The people who work with him in development and on site all seem to love him.

This has been referred to as the last of the Brazil trilogy, with 12 Monkeys being the second. I can see it. They all deal with people overwhelmed by a vast and heartless and almost incomprehensible world they didn’t create. And once again, I can’t say I understood a lot of it … and once again, I just didn’t care. The look of a Gilliam film is as important as the story, to me. There is no one who can touch him for creating vast and totally distinctive worlds. This is one of the best. It even resembles Brazil in its odd mix of retro and futuristic elements, but it is entirely different. This time he can utilize the amazing possibilities of CGI that weren’t available in the earlier films. The street environment he creates, with virtual reality everywhere you look, overloading your mind, are better than anything I have ever seen, and the interior spaces measure up, too, and most of them are entirely practical.

The story …? Meh. Who needs a story when you have this much to look at? Christoph Waltz is the protagonist, and Matt Damon and Tilda Swinton have supporting roles.