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Film: The Zero Theorem

0 (zero) currently equals 93.78926%
0 (zero) must equal 100%.
Good luck.

The Zero Theorem is a 2014 film directed by Terry Gilliam. It stars Christoph Waltz, Tilda Swinton, Matt Damon, Ben Whishaw, David Thewlis and Mélanie Thierry.

Qohen Leth is an eccentric and reclusive computer genius who lives in an Orwellian corporate world and suffers from existential angst. Under the instruction of a shadowy figure known only as "Management", Qohen works to solve the "Zero Theorem" — a mathematical formula which will finally determine whether life has any meaning. Qohen's work in the burnt-out chapel that serves as his home is interrupted by visits from Bainsley, a seductive woman, and Bob, the teenage son of Management.

Watch the trailer here.


The Zero Theorem contains the following examples:

  • Affably Evil: Management turns out to be this. He wants the Zero Theorem proven so that he can convince people to live in the now (preferably with his company's products and services) instead of wasting their time thinking about potential afterlives or deeper philosophical topics. When Qohen fails to come through with it, Management's response is to gently fire him.
  • The Anti-Nihilist: Bob believes in the Zero Theorem, but as he says so himself, he's young enough to believe anything, even that it might be wrong.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Qohen fails to solve the Zero Theorem, gets fired, and is unable to reconcile with Bainsley, Joby is also fired for Qohen's screw-up, Bob is hospitalized with a severe fever that will most likely kill him, and Management implies that he's just going to keep trying to solve the Zero Theorem. However, Qohen finally takes the leap into the giant black hole in his dreams and winds up in the beach that he and Bainsley used to play around in; his letting the sun set when it was once permanently fixed at a certain point might symbolize that he's ready to finally move on in his life.
  • Crapsack World
  • Femme Fatale: Bainsley
  • Gainax Ending: It's difficult to say if Qohen is trapped in the neural net forever.
  • I Am Legion: The strange variation — Qohen, when using personal pronouns, opts to use we/us instead of I/me. He starts to refer to himself in the singular before it's all over.
  • I Just Want to Be Special: What Qohen wanted to be when he was a younger man. When he realized that this probably wasn't the case, he sunk into depression and several self-destructive vices.
  • Insufferable Genius: Qohen, Bob, and probably Management.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Bob turns out to be one of these as he and Qohen gradually bond over the course of their partnership.
  • Logical Fallacies: In order to learn if life has value, Qohen must use a computer to make zero equal 100%. Naturally, this proves difficult.
    • He apparently gets closer than anyone else had before. However, once he learns what the Zero Theorem actually is, he hits a big snag as he doesn't want it to be true.
  • Meaningful Name: Qohen's name comes from the Hebrew title of the book of Ecclesiastes, which suggests questions such as "What is the Meaning of Life?"
  • Missed the Call: Qohen believes that a mysterious phone call that he accidentally disconnected himself from held the answers as to what his purpose in life was.
  • New Media Are Evil: Gilliam has explained in an interview that the movie acts as "a warning against the perils of a digitised existence."
  • Pastiche: Gilliam has described it as a "Borgesian fable".
  • Scenery Gorn: The Cyber Punk setting, as well as the black holes seen in the trailers.
  • Shout-Out: To Matrix, at least.
    • The pads Qohen puts over his eyes when he sleeps look like the eye-pads used on the test subjects in La Jetee
  • Stepford Smiler: For all his smiling and genial temperament, Joby implies that he suffers from deep paranoia and anxiety from having his mind nearly destroyed trying to solve the Zero Theorem in his youth.
  • Thematic Series: According to Gilliam, this is his third in a series of dystopian satires. The other movies are Brazil and Twelve Monkeys.
  • There Are No Therapists: In a way. Psychologists seem to have been replaced wholesale by computer programs who perform similar functions. They're quite professional and friendly, occasionally giving genuinely good advice, but they can be hacked by outside parties, programmed to give you very specific counseling to nudge you toward certain courses of action, and doctor-patient confidentiality is about as nonexistent as the actual doctor is.


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