LESS THAN ZERO
Main Cast: Christoph Waltz, Matt Damon
Director: Terry Gilliam
What a day it has been, unending drama. Normy and I had no sooner pulled into the porte-cochere of Chateau Maine in the Kimchi Kitchen food truck we had borrowed for our little road jaunt, when we were met by all of our household staff. Leah, my girl Friday, Madame Rose, my publicist, Joseph my manager, Captain Drew from my yacht, Mimi my vocal coach and Lulu Pigg my tap therapist. The whole gang. After shushing all of those competing voices (going up to an A flat above high C on the part of Mimi), Normy and I were finally able to make sense of what was going on. Apparently, sometime during our absence, the entire back terrace and rear wing of Chateau Maine had collapsed into the canyon. The insurance adjusters found out that the installation of the golden toilet tower for Neely O’Hara’s wedding some months ago had somehow undermined that part of the foundation and it had finally given way.
Well of course this has rendered the house uninhabitable and Normy and I are going to have to find new living quarters. I shall shed a nostalgic tear or two over quitting Chateau Maine but the house was really starting to get on my nerves. No matter how many times I tastefully redecorated in early Ottoman or Imperial Russian, there always seemed to be something lacking and this will give me time to find a house that will set me off like an elegant platinum setting for a cabochon cut emerald. It’s also a perfect way to get some much needed publicity. I have had the brilliant idea of making my search for a new home the ultimate reality show. I immediately placed a call to HGTV promising them a ratings bonanza for a multi episode arc of Celebrity House Hunters: Lester on the Loose. The cameras will capture every moment of Normy and my searching the mansions of Los Angeles (35,000 square feet is the minimum – my wardrobe alone requires over 5,000) for the perfect dream home where we can establish our careers, our projects, our staff and a life that all of America would love to emulate (and can with inexpensive clothes and housewares from the MNM collections, available at a Pic N Save near you).
After assuring the staff that their jobs were not in jeopardy, Normy retired to another room to begin the tedious process of dealing with insurance agents and realtors and I decided a large stiff drink was in order so I added a bottle of Tanqueray to a bottle of Sunny Delight and headed off to the home theater to relax. When I got there, I realized that the back wall was down at the bottom of the canyon so I redeployed to the third best guest room at the front of the house where I flipped through various films available on demand until I ran across The Zero Theorem, a 2013 film from Terry Gilliam that received essentially no release in the United States. Mr. Gilliam has been one of my favorite film makers for many years (Brazil being an absolute masterpiece in my book) but his output has always been a little haphazard due to his notorious battles with studio executive over budgets and creative vision.
This film mines the dystopian future territory that he explored with both Brazil and 12 Monkeys, only this time, it’s a Candy Crush Technicolor future full of animated billboards, odd little cars, and virtual reality supercomputers. Christoph Waltz stars as Qohen, an agoraphobic programmer who lives in what appears to be a converted chapel, complete with frescoes and altars and who works for an outfit called Mancom run by a practically unrecognizable Matt Damon. Qohen is crunching numbers through a supercomputer trying to prove the titular zero theorem which will reveal that life is meaningless. His fragile psyche is held together by a virtual reality shrink (Tilda Swinton), his friend Joby (David Thewlis) and a lovely young lady who appears to be both real and delusional (Melanie Thierry). Eventually, the management’s teenage son Bob (Lucas Hedges) joins him in his solitude and there is much banter between the two until Bob’s health declines. Then there’s a bunch about a telephone call that never comes and eventually the script collapses into a pile of incomprehensible gibberish.
This is the central problem with the film. Brazil had a very strong narrative through line into which the flights of fancy fit nicely and the differences between reality and hallucination were always clear. 12 Monkeys was bloated in being a two-and-a-half-hour film adapted from a 20 minute short but again, it was always clear who we were to care about and what was real and what was illusion. The Zero Theorem, on the other hand, is a narrative mess. I could not tell what was going on half the time and when I finally had things sorted out, off it went on some odd tangent confusing me all over again. Christoph Waltz, an excellent actor with the Oscars to prove it, is also the wrong choice for the everyman role at the center. He underplays Qohen as a passive reactor to the loopiness happening around him and the character becomes as much of a black hole as the literal one that shows up late in the proceedings. Gilliam has assembled an interesting cast (Peter Stormare, Gwendoline Christie, and Ben Whishaw all make appearances) but doesn’t give them a whole lot to do. The one bright spot is young Lucas Hedges as Bob. Every time he pops up, he brings the film alive with an incredibly natural and charismatic performance which makes him the major focus of our attention, throwing things a bit off balance.
The film is full of fantastical images and the visual flourishes one expects from a Terry Gilliam film and is worth watching for this reason alone. The production design by David Warren and cinematography by Nicola Pecorini are top notch and the film shifts seamlessly from its chapel confines to the far reaches of outer space and back. I keep hoping that Mr. Gilliam will make another film as good as Brazil before he retires but he needs to hire a better script writer than Pat Rushin. Perhaps I should have my people get in touch with him about The Vicki Lester story. It looks like I will have some time available.
Naked programming. Unanswered calls. Video games. Wild wigs. Black hole. Tropical beach. Neural net machine. Ambulance ride. Damaged virtual reality suit.
golden toilet photo by Sustainable Sanitation Alliance
Originally from Seattle Washington, land of mist, coffee and flying salmon, Mrs. Norman Maine sprang to life, full grown like Athena, from Andy’s head during a difficult period of life shortly after his relocation to Alabama.