The Zero Theorem

This cartoonish sci-fi satire might be described as Terry Gilliam’s Mr. Arkadin—a visually inspired but frequently confounding (and clearly underfinanced) reworking of longtime personal themes. Set in the near future, it concerns an agoraphobic computer programmer (Christoph Waltz) ordered by his corporate employer to prove mathematically that existence is meaningless. He holes up in an abandoned cathedral to work on the problem, fending off constant interruptions from his emotionally insecure department manager (David Thewlis); a teenage computer prodigy; an android psychologist (Tilda Swinton); and a gorgeous blond vamp (Mélanie Thierry). The overstuffed production design and antibureaucratic humor echo Gilliam’s Brazil, whereas the air of apocalyptic dread recalls 12 Monkeys and the misbegotten Tideland. Gilliam has never seemed so unconcerned with narrative, and the story devolves into chaos early on; the film feels liberated but also rudderless.