Updated: Feb 18, 2021
The Zero Theorem directed by Terry Gilliam, starring Christoph Waltz came out in 2013. Taking place sometime in the future, the film is about an eccentric and psychotic genius named Qohen Leth who works for a company called Mancom, crunching "entities." The movie begins with Qohen sitting naked at his desk peering into the edge of infinity/eternity—a black hole, waiting for an important phone call.
Continually through the movie, Qohen continues to tell others that he is waiting for a phone call and questions "Management" about when he will receive "our" call. The call Qohen is waiting for is the answer to the question, "What is the meaning of life?". In addition, Qohen refers to himself in the majestic plural (us, we, our, etc.). One of the most interesting aspects of the movie is what Mancom is attempting to have Qohen prove, "Everything adds up to nothing." Or rather, that the Universe accidentally burst into existence from nothing, and that it will return to nothing. If this isn't enough to put someone into a permanent state existential crisis, the dank, dark, and slightly comedic overtones of the movie just might.
As with other reviews on this site, the goal is not to provide a complete breakdown of the movie, but rather to highlight sections of the film that deal with the meaning of life. Given this, there are some notable quotes and conversations that are highlighted below.
1) You're not dying. Although, in a way, from the moment of birth, we all begin to die. Call it divinely planned obsolescence. Sooner or later, beggar or king, death is the end of all things. While life might be seen as a virus infecting the perfect organism of death.
2) Qohen Leth: Nothing adds up.
Joby: No. You've got it backwards, Qohen. Everything adds up to nothing, that's the point.
Qohen Leth: What's the point?
Joby: Exactly. What's the point of anything?
3) One night, a long time ago, we were awakened by the phone ringing. We picked it up. The voice on the other end said, “Qohen Leth.” Before we could respond we felt this great power opening through the phone line. We felt this sudden rush of joy unlike anything we ever felt before. And then we knew quite clearly we only had to answer, “Yes!” And the voice would tell us the meaning of our life. The voice would tell us our special calling. The voice would give us a reason for being.
4) Bainsley: And then?
Qohen: And then. In our excitement we dropped the receiver disconnecting ourselves.
Bainsley: You’ve been waiting for a call back every since?
Qohen: What other reason is there to pick up the phone?
Bainsley: Well communication for one.
Qohen: It’s mostly unnecessary.
Bainsley: But that’s what we’re doing now. ..So all this time, you’ve been waiting for a mysterious voice to tell you what to do with your life?
5) Management: I never said all is for nothing. I’m a businessman, Mr. Leth, nothing is for nothing. Ex inordinatio veni pecunia (Money come from disorder).
Management: ‘There’s money in ordering disorder.’ Chaos pays, Mr. Leth. Chaos comprises a rich vein of ore, that with Mancom’s muscle will be all mine to mine. The saddest aspect of mankind’s need to believe in a God or, to put it another way, a purpose greater than this life, is that it makes this life meaningless.
You see, this is all just some way station on the way to eternity. The reason I chose you—I mean, rather perversely, I admit—is that you represent the antithesis of the project: a man of faith. You see, you’ve persisted in believing that a phone call could give your life meaning. You’ve waited and waited for that call and, as a result, you’ve lead a meaningless life.
Quite naturally as one can see from the quotes, this movie is one of those classic examples of a Dystopian future (or perhaps just a despondent reflection of our current state of existence). At some point in our lives, we all had dreams. Yet, we fulfill our lives by trading those dreams to the first company or corporation that offers us a stable income. Stuck in the mechanical hamster wheel we end up crunching "entities," stop dreaming, and wait for someone else to define the meaning of life for us.
The movie ends with Qohen once again... naked. Only this time he isn't staring into the edge of infinity/eternity, rather he is standing on a beach alone where he once started to fall in love—giddy and insane, a quintessential demise.
We rate the movie the following:
Overall - 6
Meaning of Life Relevance - 9
Uniqueness - 6
If you have seen the movie, please comment on this blog post and let us know your thoughts, favorite parts, and hidden meanings.
P.S. Math and Physics enthusiasts may recognize and appreciate some of the formulas found in the background.