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Film / A Zed and Two Noughts

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A Zed and Two Noughts is a 1985 film directed by Peter Greenaway.

"A Zed and Two Noughts" turns out to be a British way to spell "zoo". A woman named Alba Berwick is driving outside a zoo when a swan which apparently escaped from the zoo smashes into her windshield. Alba's two passengers, two women in the backseat, are killed; Alba winds up losing a leg.

It turns out that the women in the back seat are the wives of two brothers, Oswald and Oliver Deuce (Real Life brothers Brian and Eric Deacon). Both brothers, unable to deal with the deaths of their wives, become obsessed with death and decay. They begin taking the corpses of animals from the zoo and photographing the corpses as they rot. They both become fixated on Alba, and she has sexual relations with each. The brothers begin to draw unnaturally close to each other, dressing identically, as together they fall into their obsessions.

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There's also a doctor at the zoo, with a fetish for amputations, and a hooker at the zoo named "Venus de Milo"...it's quite a Mind Screw of a movie.


Tropes:

  • All for Nothing: The twins rig up one of their Time Lapse cameras. They lie down on the mat and kill themselves via injections. But soon after they die the snails crawling all over the place get into the camera rig and short it out, so their pictures of decay are never taken.
  • An Arm and a Leg: A recurring theme throughout the movie. Alba loses a leg in the car accident—and then lets Van Meegeren amputate her other leg, supposedly because having only one leg is compressing her spine but really due to Van Meegeren's obsession with symmetry. At some point in the back story Van Meegeren amputated a leg from a gorilla at the zoo. A man with no legs shows up out of nowhere at one point; he and Alba get married. The hooker who hangs around the zoo—a hooker in a zoo?—is named Venus de Milo, after the famous armless statue.
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  • Artistic License – Biology: Conjoined twins are always identical, and Oswald and Oliver aren't (although they'd clearly like to be).
  • As You Know: Early in the film Venus asks Oliver "How is your brother Oswald?", to establish the nature of the relationship between the two men.
  • Conjoined Twins: Oswald and Oliver are revealed to be formerly conjoined twins who were separated. As they begin growing closer together they express a desire to be joined together again, although they never act on it, settling for wearing oversized jackets and pants that they both fit into.
  • Coordinated Clothes: The brothers start dressing identically as they make themselves over into identical twins.
  • Creepy Twins: They're obsessed with death, they take time lapse photos of rotting corpses, they're formerly conjoined twins that want to be re-joined...
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • It isn't quite clear how Alba dies, actually, but it seems like she kills herself. She promises to let the brothers use her corpse for one of their time lapse decay series, but as she predicts, her family claims her body.
    • Then Oliver and Oswald kill themselves via injections, in order to photograph their own bodies in decay.
  • Fan Disservice: Most of the scenes where one or both of the brothers are naked are at least somewhat disturbing. The clearest examples are the early scene where Oliver is naked in his bathroom, having cut himself up with broken glass, or the ending scene where the brothers strip naked before lying down and poisoning each other with injections.
  • Fanservice: The attractive Venus naked in bed after sex with Oliver.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Caterina, servant to—Van Meegeren apparently? It isn't quite clear—is always, always seen wearing a very wide-brimmed red Nice Hat, even when she isn't wearing anything else like when she's posing for a painting.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: The brothers do this more than once. In one scene they show up naked in Van Meegren's mansion for no particular reason. They are also nude in the final scene where they kill themselves in an effort to photograph their own decay.
  • Motif: Often the brothers are positioned on either side of a woman (once Venus, more usually Alba) who is centered in the frame between them.
  • Nature Documentary: In-Universe, as the brothers repeatedly watch David Attenborough's Life on Earth.
  • Polyamory: Alba embarks on an affair with the brothers that isn't revealed until she tells them she's pregnant and she isn't sure which one is the father. Later the three of them are shown in bed together.
  • Stock Footage: As the brothers become fixated on figuring out the nature of life and death and the meaning of decay, they repeatedly watch David Attenborough's famous Life on Earth series. Clips from the series, along with Attenborough's narration, are shown several times during the film.
  • Time Lapse: The brothers start with time lapse photography of the browning of an apple, which is shown on screen. They progress to larger animals—a lizard, a dog, a zebra—with the goal of eventually photographing the decay of a human being.
  • Title Drop: Near the end Alba contemplates herself and the twins and says "A zed and two noughts! What a zoo!"
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