Terry Gilliam has done it again – created a story that has a heavy message but yet manages to turn it into an enjoyable movie where the common person can grasp a seemingly complex issue. What’s the heavy message – complex issue here? One that Monty Python has grappled with – The Meaning of Life.
Although we do not see Gilliam’s famous animation in this film, I have to bring up the several times I saw Monty Python in this. From the beginning of the movie, to the end, there were a few instances that remind me of the comedic group’s work. The first scene with the main character, Qohen Leth, shows him as he sits at his monitor, naked. So many times did Monty Python have one of the guys naked at a piano, or a desk. Numerous skits involved people’s perceptions of God and religion. Qohen’s home is an abandoned church with statues of Jesus and stained glass windows. And then, at the end of the movie, Qohen is able to manipulate the sun in the virtual reality using a beach ball. I couldn’t help but think of The Holy Grail, when the sun is saying “Stay Up” and the religious scribe goes outside ad tells the sun to “Stop that!”
The story centers around Qohen, an odd man in this futuristic society. He doesn’t like being around people. He doesn’t go to parties. He has no hair, and he speaks in the third person all the time. He is obsessed with answering his phone, waiting for “the call”. The outside world though is obsessed with something else – people are mainly self-centered. Ads bombard the population with promises of getting rich quickly, of self-improvement techniques, and even the Church of Batman the Redeemer try to entice new followers.
There is so much symbolism in the movie that you’d have to be blind not to notice. Representing Big Brother is The Management. The Management is watching. Everything. Everywhere. Even in Qohen’s church home the head of the Jesus statue is replaced by a cam. Another symbol is the play of dark and light. Qohen’s home is dark. Not much natural light enters into the crumbling church. When he goes out to work, the light nearly blinds him. But soon after he steps outside, although people are wearing brightly colored clothes, it is still dark looking outside. Like Gilliam is trying to say we are all in the dark when it comes to discovering the meaning of Life.
So what’s the meaning of Life? Is there an afterlife? Why are we here on this planet day in, day out? Qohen works at Mancom, crunching entities for a living. And that’s just what it is. A living while he does what’s most important – waiting for the call. He even tries his best to get permission from The Management to work at home so that he doesn’t miss his call. By meeting The Management through his supervisor’s party, he is granted permission to work from home on a special project, the Zero Theorem. Mr. Joby, his boss, tells him the news and sends him home. The work looks a lot like a video game, complete with controller and monitor. Sometimes the work resembles Tetris, or Minecraft, or even Rubic’s Cube. Through the assistance of Mr. Joby, Bainsley (the girl he meets at the party who saves his life twice), the virtual shrink, and Bob (The Management’s “son”), Qohen tries to complete the project so that “0=100%”. Qohen reaches over 97%, but fails to get to 100%.
Ironically, Qohen is working to prove that life is worth nothing, while waiting for the call which would tell him what to do with his life. He struggles with who to trust, and how to interact with the world or what his place is. Mr. Joby doesn’t really care about Qohen – he can’t even call him by his correct name, and calls him Colin or Quinn. Bob calls everyone Bob, but manages to call the main character “Q”, which I found funny and interesting at the same time. Scientists, who refuse to accept that God is real, have concluded that there’s another force in the universe which ties everything together, and that force is named “Q”.
Following the story, it would seem that Gilliam is saying that there is no God, or an afterlife. As in the old medieval “Everyman” plays, each person is God, and while breathing every man should not worry about the meaning of Life and instead just live life. Don’t be fake, don’t be wrapped up in yourself, and don’t get so bogged down in waiting for your calling that you waste your life.
Overall this is a good movie. It makes the viewer contemplate if there is meaning to the lives we live, and the story is presented in a way most can understand. Personally, I do believe God is real, but otherwise I agree with Terry Gilliam. What’s important about Life is that you be real and experience things whole-heartedly. There’s more to Life than being self-absorbed, ignoring people around you because you’re too busy being distracted by technology (tablets/cell phones/internet) or by your own fears and worries.