“Aquarius”, former film critic Kleber Mendonça Filho’s second feature film …
Rather than the political surveillance looked at in Brazil, corporate surveillance is the primary focus, though the film’s weak digs at both that and the impersonal nature of our online modern age lack any of the bite of the earlier film. Exploration of the latter idea certainly isn’t helped by the writing of Bainsley, a character lacking in any agency of her own. Thierry is victim to an uncomfortable amount of fetishistic objectification, present even outside of the few scenes in which it contextually makes a little sense. Kim Griest’s well-rounded, independent heroine is just one of the ways in which Brazil still has punch today as a key science fiction work; The Zero Theorem, an effort that never excels, is a light shove at best.
Depression is something that movies never seem to get right. Perhaps it’s to avoid dragging viewers into a hopeless abyss, or sidestepping the painful truth that no one is immune to the despair. Whatever the reason, filmmakers invariably choose to glamourize depression, either by exaggerating it into a hallucinatory freakshow or diminishing it to tortured brooding. The reality—the unrelenting emptiness—is neither easy to portray nor pleasant to acknowledge. Petra Costa accomplishes both by weaving images and sounds from her childhood into a quasi-mystery story that’s determined to find closure, even if the case can never truly be solved.
Though writer Pat Rushin scripted and conceived the story of The Zero Theorem, one can be forgiven for assuming Terry Gilliam came up with the narrative himself, being that it comes across as the work of someone who either saw every film Gilliam’s ever made or just happened to direct them. Indeed, The Zero Theorem sees Gilliam very much in his storytelling and thematic comfort zones, though sadly to diminishing returns. It openly scrounges scraps from earlier efforts, especially Brazil, but has little idea how to develop its ever so slightly different ideas beyond thin sketches.