A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that, like many of director Terry Gilliam's other films, The Zero Theorem is complex, dark, smart, and quite dazzling. It plays with many ideas and isn't easy to pin down or label; as such, it's likely to inspire strong opinions on both sides. There's some strong language, much spoken by a teen, including "f--k" and "s--t." Other content includes nudity, mostly female toplessness, as main characters enter a website to kiss and have virtual sex. (The female character doesn't want to be touched in real life.) There's a brief scene of violence as the character rampages and tries to destroy a computer and a brief scene of drinking at a party. This will be something that film buffs will want to check out, but it's best for older teens and up.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Loner Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) works for a big company but would rather stay in his vast, cavernous, ruined home, where he awaits an important phone call that he believes could give him his purpose in life. He strikes a deal with Management (Matt Damon): He can work at home if he attempts to solve the "zero theorem" -- i.e. to somehow make zero equal 100%. He begins this bizarre task, interrupted by various visits from the flirty Bainsley (Melanie Thierry); the cocksure boss's son, teen Bob (Lucas Hedges); his cheerful colleague, Joby (David Thewlis); and a "digital therapist" (Tilda Swinton). As Qohen slowly begins to lose focus on his two goals, he begins to wonder whether there isn't perhaps something less predictable and more rewarding to life.
Is it any good?
Terry Gilliam is a visionary director whose huge, personal visions are frequently as fantastic and futuristic as they are unwieldy and difficult to pin down. In short, they aren't for everyone, and THE ZERO THEOREM is perhaps one of his more downbeat films, if also one of his most heartfelt. It explores the clash between being solitary and living with humanity, ridiculing both as much as finding beauty in them.
Qohen Leth's living space is vast but in ruins, while the outside world is bright and new but also busy and noisy. Technology usually comes between actual human relationships, but sometimes there are surprises. Gilliam has guided Oscar-nominated performances before, and Waltz's work here is quite powerful and moving, which helps. It's a dense film, layered with ideas and themes, many that require pondering or perhaps a second viewing. Though it comes close in many ways to Gilliam's masterpiece Brazil (1985), ultimately it finds its own path.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how The Zero Theorem depicts sex. How does it relate to love? How does it relate to an actual human connection? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding sex and relationships.
What do you think about the idea of waiting for a telephone call that could tell you everything about your life? Have you ever waited for someone to tell you something? What other ways are there of getting information?
The movie is set in the future, but how many aspects of this future world seem familiar today? How?
Is the movie too complex or confusing? What didn't you understand? How could it have been clearer?
- In theaters: September 19, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: January 20, 2015
- Cast: Christoph Waltz, Matt Damon, Melanie Thierry
- Director: Terry Gilliam
- Studios: Amplify, Well Go USA
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Run time: 107 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language and some sexuality/nudity
- Last updated: March 13, 2020
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