WTF: The Zero Theorem (2013)

The Zero Theorem 12 (Saint Pauly WTF Watch the Film)

The Zero Theorem 01 poster (Saint Pauly WTF Watch the Film)

Spoiler Alert:

I shall be studying each word of The Zero Theorem, poring over each postulate and appraising every reaction to determine if its arguments are valid or if it’s all for naught. So read on only if you’ve already seen The Zero Theorem, or don’t plan to.

Watch The Zero Theorem here

[My explanations are provided in italics where necessary, and a complete analysis of the themes is found at the bottom of the review.]

The Zero Theorem 02 (Saint Pauly WTF Watch the Film)
No Kidding?

0:02:11 Kafka on LSD. Christoph Waltz (as Qohen Leth) answers the phone maniacally and hangs up disappointed whilst playing with test tubes of different colours and staring at an image of what looks like the universe being flushed. Oh yes, he’s also naked. And hairless. In case you needed confirmation that Terry Gilliam directed this.

0:04:16 This is the magic that Terry Gilliam brings to the cinema.

The Zero Theorem 03 GIF Street Seen (Saint Pauly WTF Watch the Film)
Street Seen


Everyone is getting rich… except you. Learn the secret to their success tonight at 8 on DumBC.

Advert on Qohen’s commute.

0:04:56 Oh, and then there’s this.

The Zero Theorem 04 (Saint Pauly WTF Watch the Film)
Batman will Save you!

[Easter egg: Because I always go the extra mile for you while all other critics are leading real lives, I discovered the QR code in the above poster leads to the following video.]

0:07:57 Qohen is an ‘Entity Crusher’ at a company called Mancom where he uses a joy stick to manipulate the image of a cube in a game I call “World of Work Crap”.

[Explanation: Mancom symbolises the Human Being (and is a microcosm for Humanity – of which Qohen is a reluctant member but not a team player).]


We fear parties. We never know quite where to stand.

Qohen to Joby, his supervisor (David Thewlis)

Joby says Qohen has to attend a party if he wants authorization from management to work from home so that he can be present to receive a Call. Qohen always refers to himself in the first person plural, and not because he’s a queen, I’d imagine.

[Explanation: Qohen uses the ‘we’ form because he’s an Everyman, meant to represent all of us.]

0:13:22 At the party:

It’s my uncle’s. He lost everything in the Sit-On-My-Facebook crash.

Joby speaking to Qohen about the house


The Zero Theorem 05 (Saint Pauly WTF Watch the Film)
A real Chat Room


We’ve been waiting for a call all our life now. And although the nature and the origin of the call remains quintessentially a mystery to us, we can’t help but hope that it will provide us with a purpose which we have long lived without.

Qohen to Matt Damon as Management

I appreciate a film which doesn’t make me work too hard for the point. A film that makes me work too hard would get Under the Skin and be my Enemy.

[Explanation: The Call he’s anxious to receive is what he believes to be his Calling, i.e. his purpose for living and the meaning of life.]

0:18:12 While choking on a nut, Qohen stumbles in on Management again, who tells him he may have a project for Qohen which may prove mutually beneficial. Which means Management may represent a higher power than an earthly one. Or even the IRS.

0:22:04 Qohen is sent home to work on the Zero Theorem, which Joby tells him is an impossible task he himself worked on until he ended up “a few raisins short of a full scoop”.

That’s why Management made me a supervisor.


You’re a tough nut to crack, Qohen. And of course I don’t mean ‘nut’ in the pejorative sense.

Tilda Swinton as Dr. Shrink-Rom (software psychologist)

The Zero Theorem 06 (Saint Pauly WTF Watch the Film)
Have the blues? She can do something forum.

0:34:04 Qohen has a break down…with a hammer on his computer and then his phone.

0:34:45 The beautiful thing about Gilliam is that every set is a tapestry.

The Zero Theorem 07 (Saint Pauly WTF Watch the Film)
Proof that religion is for the birds

0:43:25 Mélanie Thierry plays Bainsely, who arrives with a sex suit. Bainsley’s job is to “shoot trouble”,  i.e. she’s a prostitute who doesn’t perform intercourse. Like a professional wife.

[Explanation: Bainsley symbolises cyber-sex.]

0:51:12 Bob, a young lad and Management’s son (brain-child), works at Mancom for a summer job. He’s sent to Qohen’s home to repair his computer. While there, he speaks to a video camera and says he doesn’t need to be watched. We understand that all of the scenes shown through CTV lens mean that Management is watching the entire city all of the time. We don’t need to wonder too much what that’s meant to represent.

The Zero Theorem 08 (Saint Pauly WTF Watch the Film)
Qohen found his game boy

[Explanation: Bob represents mobile phone technology. Case in point, the thugs that bring Bob to Qohen’s house? They’re the restrictive contracts that strong arm users into deals. Also, he’s young and small and more advanced than his environment.]

0:56:48 Al K Hall nudity alert: Mélanie Thierry in a see-through blouse.

The Zero Theorem 09 (Saint Pauly WTF Watch the Film)
Women are so transparent…

…and men are so predictable. #thankgod

0:59:52  In a cyber-sex fantasy, Qohen nearly dies by drowning. (In the ocean, perv.)


You’re trying to prove the whole universe is all for nothing.

Bob explaining the Zero Theorem

Don’t worry. It’s nothing.

1:04:54 Qohen orders pizza as a sign that he’s opening up. It’s a slice of life.

[Explanation: Bob is like a mobile phone, letting Qohen order food from outside and meet the delivery person, thus connecting with the world.]

1:07:34 Al K Hall nudity alert: Mélanie Thierry floating around naked in cyber space near a black hole of the astrological sort.

1:09:26 Just as he’s about to insert his plug in her jack, Bainsley boots Qohen out for talk of betraying Management. I hate premature evacuation.

1:12:21 Qohen signed onto Bainsley’s site without the sex suit and found her in the middle of a traditional strip tease chat room. He was disappointed and she was sad, but a real man wouldn’t have let that bring him down.

The Zero Theorem 10 (Saint Pauly WTF Watch the Film)
Cos Play With Yourself

1:15:28 Lucas Hedges, the young lad playing Bob, is a gifted young actor. A pleasure to watch, and I don’t just mean visually.

1:18:22 Bainsley arrives in person, stripped of her makeup and her porn airs and begs Qohen to connect with her on a real level. And not just with his hands.

1:18:52 He washes his hands of her. And not just her smell.

1:20:00 Perhaps the most romantic scene I’ve seen this year.


The Zero Theorem 11 GIF Sex Shop Death (Saint Pauly WTF Watch the Film)
After he came, he went

1:23:06 Bob helps Qohen go outside for the first time in years, so he can stay connected.

The Zero Theorem 12 (Saint Pauly WTF Watch the Film)
No Future

1:27:04 Qohen destroys all of the video surveillance cameras in his place because Bob is sick (and not in the ‘fun, 3-tubs-of-butter-and-a-goat’ way.)

1:32:36 Using the computer sex suit, Qohen inserts himself into the Zero Theorem machinery.

[Explanation:  Management’s massive “neural network” represents the Human Brain.]

1:33:22 This is what the film is about.

Qohen (Christoph Waltz): So there is no answer?

Management (Matt Damon): That depends on the question.

Qohen: What I’m living for.

Management: That’s a good question, Mr Leth, posed to the entirely wrong person. You seem to have mistaken me for a considerably higher power. I’m not the source of your call. I’m not God or the Devil. I’m just a man, seeking the truth.

Qohen: What truth if…

Management: Turn around and look. That’s it. Chaos encapsulated. That’s all there is at the end, just as it was at the beginning.

Qohen: There it is, then. You’ve proved the Zero Theorem.

Management: Not quite. Mankind is still, as you say, crunching the data.

The Zero Theorem 13 (Saint Pauly WTF Watch the Film)
God, when he bends over

Qohen: Why would you want to prove that all is for nothing?

Management: I never said all is for nothing. I’m a businessman, Mr Leth, nothing is for nothing. Ex inordinatio veni pecunia.

Qohen: What?

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.

If you don’t get that, well, you can always get back on your knees and continue praying for a reboot of the Twilight franchise.

1:36:09 The mainframe crashes. Literally. Like, into pieces.

1:38:01 When the central server breaks down like a brain, a black hole of photographs and memories forms, and Qohen leaps inside of it.

[Qohen has had a mental breakdown. The entire world he inhabited was, in fact, himself. When the “neural net” crashed, it meant his mind snapped.  

1:40:26 Qohen finishes alone and naked on the beach. He’s insanely happy — mostly ‘insanely’.

The Zero Theorem 14 (Saint Pauly WTF Watch the Film)
The cracks of dawn

Roll credits

The song playing in the credits (and the main musical theme of the film) is Radiohead’s “Creep”, as performed by Karen Souza.

1:41:08 During the credits, we hear Bainsley’s voice as she finds him lost in his thoughts. Like Brazil.

1:46:37 Film leaves us with this.

The Zero Theorem 15 GIF Jesus Camera(Saint Pauly WTF Watch the Film)

The Zero Theorem is the story of a dystopian future in the computer age. Qohen (Christoph Waltz) is an Everyman (he even refers to himself as ‘we’) who works as an ‘Entity Crusher’ in a computer company (Mancom, representing the Human Being as a microcosm of the Human Race). He would prefer to work at home, especially as he’s 1) socially inept and 2) waiting for his calling: he believes that he will receive a ‘Call’ which will give him the meaning of life and purpose to his existence.

Qohen confuses Upper Management (Matt Damon) with a Higher Power. Management then tells Qohen he will receive his Call if he can validate the Zero Theorem: the concept that our existence is worthless. (Notice the irony that Management promises to give Qohen the meaning of life if he can prove life is meaningless?) Along the way, he dabbles in cybersex with Bainsley (Mélanie Thierry) and befriends a young man (Lucas Hedges as Bob) symbolising smart phones and modern technology.

At the end, the Neural Net (master computer) crashes, and we learn that the universe Qohen lived in was really a metaphor for himself. He has had a breakdown and lives happily ever after in his madness, while the Neural Net (symbolising the Internet and technology in general) repairs itself and goes on without him.

The Zero Theorem 16 (Saint Pauly WTF Watch the Film)
With the mic inserted, Qohen is ready to perform one of Beethoven’s other movements

Tally Ho’

  • WTF!?’s: Zero
  • When to Follow: When you’re fed up of your existence and want to watch a film that will let you escape reality, if only for 1 hour, 46 minutes and 37 seconds.
  • Where’s This Found: I loved this film because I was able to understand it. Out of a possible 10, I have 9 F’s to give

9 Fs 139pt

All GIFs used in this review were created with the Imgflip online meme generator

Left Over WTF (Way Too Funny) Photos

The Zero Theorem 17 GIF Come In (Saint Pauly WTF Watch the Film)

The Zero Theorem 18 GIF No Way (Saint Pauly WTF Watch the Film)

The Zero Theorem 19 (Saint Pauly WTF Watch the Film)
“Hold still, I can’t get the right angle.”
The Zero Theorem 20 (Saint Pauly WTF Watch the Film)
Knows how to turn a machine on
The Zero Theorem 21 (Saint Pauly WTF Watch the Film)
Pregnant paws…
The Zero Theorem 22 (Saint Pauly WTF Watch the Film)
Is that a bra on your head or are you just a boob?
The Zero Theorem 23 (Saint Pauly WTF Watch the Film)
Sofa, so good
The Zero Theorem 24 (Saint Pauly WTF Watch the Film)
Still doesn’t understand hand job
The Zero Theorem 25 (Saint Pauly WTF Watch the Film)
How many nipples are you holding up, Mélanie?
The Zero Theorem 26 (Saint Pauly WTF Watch the Film)
“Mr. Leth, you’re putting me between this rock and your hard place.”
The Zero Theorem 27 (Saint Pauly WTF Watch the Film)
Qohen and a blanket statement
The Zero Theorem 28 (Saint Pauly WTF Watch the Film)
Insert hard disc into floppy drive…

The Zero Theorem 29 poster 2 (Saint Pauly WTF Watch the Film)

Prints suitable for reposting!

The Zero Theorem 30 meme forum (Saint Pauly WTF Watch the Film)

The Zero Theorem 31 meme parties(Saint Pauly WTF Watch the Film)

The Zero Theorem 32 Did Say Facebook (Saint Pauly WTF Watch the Film)

What to Follow Up

WTF!? review of Birdman
WTF!? analysis of another film that makes you go Hmmm
WTF!? review of a mental masturbation
Bar None 0-5 Shot Booze Revooze of The Grand Budapest Hotel
Fernby Films review of a Gilliam-esque offering

16 thoughts on “WTF: The Zero Theorem (2013)

  1. Hi, thanks for taking the time to make this. A comment and a questions:

    – You said that Qohen refers to himself in the third person. This is inaccurate. He uses first person plural aka royal plural. Third person would be if he used his own name.

    – Qohen first line in the movie is “I’m nothing if not prompt” after hanging up his phone at work. Why do you think he said used “I’m” then? Is it perhaps because he only used the plural form when talking to others but was perfectly comfortable thinking/referring to himself in the singular when he was alone?


    1. Hello M000!

      Thank you so much for the visit and the comment.

      To begin with, I’m so embarrassed by the error in terminology. As someone who has very little time for errors in grammar, usage and syntax, I’m shocked that I could let such an obvious oversight pass. Of course, Qohen does not refer to himself in the third person (“He doesn’t like parties”) but in the first person plural (“We don’t like parties”), aka ‘the royal we’ (which I reference in the joke I made: Qohen always refers to himself in the first person plural, and not because he’s a queen, I’d imagine. [this quote reflects the edit I’ve made to the point of view]).

      As for your observation, I have to admit I didn’t pick up on it, so it went back to the scene. While Qohen/Waltz does mumble, it sounds like he says “I’m nothing if not prompt.” The subtitle, however, which is usually based on the script, tells a different story.

      There are then 2 theories:

      1) Waltz’s mumbled ‘we’ sounds like ‘I’
      2) He is speaking for himself (ie, he is always prompt) and not as an Everyman (we as a people are always prompt, because we aren’t)

      I tend to think it’s the first option.

      Thank you again for your comment, and for calling me out on my sloppy prose!

      WTF M000 (Watch the Film),

      Saint Pauly


  2. This review is brilliant. I would give ZT 9 out of 10 too. I was disappointed in the mixed reception, as for me it doesn’t seem like a very difficult film to enjoy. Maybe we are just weird? Or are we geniuses like Gilliam? I will continue to hope for the latter…


    1. Hal, my good man!

      Thank you ever so for having such good taste in blog posts and film reviews. I couldn’t agree more with your assessment of the reception. I found it very accessible and thought provoking, though perhaps the films are dumbing down to match their audience and the Citizen Kanes are Gone with the Wind.

      And yes, I suspect we are both mad geniuses, especially after having seen your wonderful artwork!

      WTF Hal (Watch The Film),

      Saint Pauly


      1. I read an interview with Gilliam from Wired Magazine in which he said it’s getting more and more difficult to make the kinds of movies he wants to make, budget-wise. He said something along the lines of, “Eventually I’m going to run out of famous friends willing to help me (like Matt Damon).” This bums me out, man. I don’t know about you, the superhero thing was cool like ten years ago – BUT they just keep trotting out the same movie over and over again. Risks are minimal. People like Robert Downey, Jr. are great actors, but underserved in my opinion by the film franchises they become surrounded by. I’m pretty sure MANCOM is running Hollywood, or focus groups, or a bunch of lame old moms pretending to be Protestants.


  3. Hey, there is another QR code on the box that Bainsley opens up (when she gives Q his suit). I tried to scan it but it is at the angle and was not able.


    1. Hallo!

      I missed that QR code! Sounds like one more mystery we’ll never got to the bottom of.

      Thanks for reading my synopsis and leaving a comment!

      WTF!? (Watch The Film)

      Saint Pauly


  4. This is one of the most important films I have seen in my life. Gilliam called it a tragedy and I sobbed most of the way through it before I ever heard that. I must say that I disagree with some of the interpretations here. I see this is an allegorical tale almost to the degree of a medieval passion play. In fact, Gilliam’s medieval literature background is very apparent here. The allegories are so direct. Qohen is age, Bainsley is love, Bob is youth, Mancom is the life eating mundane business of the everyday. Certainly Qohen is everyman, but not just everyman. He is everyman after age has almost stripped him of the faith of youth. For example, listen to the stories he tells of his past, as opposed to Bob who can believe even conflicting ideas at the same time. Qohen’s youth (faith) is dying, has “been sick for a long time.” Bob isn’t anybody’s tool. Bob has an iconoclastic view of work a day existence. Supervisor: “Working hard or hardly working?” Bob: “Pay’s the same, Bob” Qohen obviously cares for Bob and tries to protect him but he mistrusts and fears him at the same time. The way that Qohen and Bob interact is probably my favorite “buddy” chemistry in any film I have ever seen. Bainsley as romantic love in the modern world is something else that is very straight forward in my opinion. She shows up in a latex nurse outfit. The sexual component is blatant yet sterilized; no mystery, yet all caution. However, mindless sex is a young person’s game. She is still playing the field. Notice that Qohen’s unexpected visit not only finds her to be not exclusive, he is made an offer to join in the “gang bang” Emotionless, sterile, and completely under the belt. However, she is immediately ashamed though Qohen doesn’t even speak. She turns away from that meaninglessness to try to convince Qohen to actually love her “for real.” She says, “I think you need me and I need so badly to be needed.” But, in a faithlessness born of pain, Qohen turns her away, even as Bob cries out “Jesus, go to her!” (I usually have been sobbing for some time, by this point) Here, I think, is a question. Is Qohen bitter or protecting her from his own lack of faith? Perhaps both. Multiple times, Bob accuses Qohen of damaging his own anticipations of the future. Mancom and management eat away at Qohen’s life in a way that is both personally damaging to Qohen and impersonally relentless on the part of Mancom. Qohen is a rat in a trap. He is a workhorse. A sled dog ready to pull until death at the word “mush.” He is made to work at the whim of management who study the effects of his breakdown with clinical efficiency and detachment. Management doesn’t care for those beneath him in the least. Management would even have had his own son working on ZT had Bob not defied him. (Bob is nobody’s tool!) I could write a book about this movie. Every frame of this film is loaded with symbolism and demands multiple viewings, yet for me it is so perfectly pointed and direct that I can’t watch it more than once or twice a year because it is such a gut wrenching experience. I love this movie. Thank you so much Gilliam!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hallo Lance,

      Oh my goodness but what a beautiful gift you’ve given us! I won’t even bother trying to dispute it (and, to be honest, I’m not even sure our points of view are at odds with each other – I think it’s more a “both / and” situation rather than an “either / or”), but instead will encourage all my readers to enjoy this moving tribute you were generous enough to share with us.

      Your points, of course, are valid, but even more important is the passion with which you speak about the film. I started this website because I, too, can be moved to extremes like this (my last example to date was Swiss Army Man) and it brings me incredible joy to know I have readers like you out there. I’m flattered you read the post and honoured you chose this forum to share your thoughts.

      WTF!? Lance (Watch The Film),

      Saint Pauly


      1. Oh wow! hey! most of the time I never get any human to talk to. I’m running to class right now I’ll write back later this after noon.

        PS I’m glad you liked the comment. I love your site.

        On Mon, Nov 7, 2016 at 3:43 PM, 1,2,3 WTF!? (Watch the Film) wrote:

        > Saint Pauly commented: “Hallo Lance, Oh my goodness but what a beautiful > gift you’ve given us! I won’t even bother trying to dispute it (and, to be > honest, I’m not even sure our points of view are at odds with each other – > I think it’s more a “both / and” situation rather than” >


  5. Hello, interesting review, It’s questionable as to whether Qohen’s “cheese actually slips from the cracker” per se, here is a thought from a different perspective. There are many cases of mental disengagements from reality that are deemed mental breakdowns but are actually shifts toward Enlightenment. (google it) They are the opposite of what they seem, a clearing of the decks of culturally imposed insanity. Qohen seems nothing if not crazy throughout the movie, just not at the end. What is crazy and inauthentic is the world around Qohen, he has tried and failed to live in this inauthentic or false existence which only served to devastate and confuse him, to the point of total insecurity and inaction; he’s just “waiting for a call” to give this crazy life meaning.

    In Zen and Advaita ideologies, the only way to enlightenment is a complete seeing thru of the false entity running the show, the ego or fear based “me” has to be destroyed, this meltdown is expressed in Zen as a pebble hitting a piece of earthenware creating the crack that initializes the cascade failure of the pot or structure, the metaphor is apt in Qohen’s striking of the neural net with the hammer (which appears repeatedly in the film) and then watching as his life, everything he thought he was, begins falling apart, this “life” expressed as images or photos of memories, tossed overboard into nothingness.

    His choice to fall into this nothingness is the total surrender of self and the relinquishing of his efforts at controlling anything, (expressed as his exasperation during trying to prove the zero theorem) the recognition that all is nothing or in eastern philosophies “dying before the body dies”. The part that seems to validate this idea is the look on his face at the end of the film, it is the first time we see Qohen straighten his shoulders and square his jaw, hardly the look of someone who has lost sanity, rather the opposite. He seems completely free of fear and trepidation, a sign of enlightenment or truth realization, he also shows complete mastery of his existence, a nod to eastern beliefs that this existence is only a dream and the enlightened actually are “lucid dreamers” flowing with existence within it.

    From the perspective here this story is simply the greatest story there is and the only journey worth expending one’s energy on, it’s the Buddha’s story, the story of Jonah, being swallowed and then spit out on the other side. It’s a complete break from total insanity (normal life or seemingly basic human reality) into total Enlightenment or Nirvana, the end of suffering.


    1. Hallo Steve!

      Thank you for taking the time to leave such an interesting comment.

      I appreciate the thought that went into your analysis, and your arguments certainly hold up! I, for one, am hoping your interpretation of the ending is the “right” one, as I grew very attached to Qohen in this film!

      Thank you again for your visit!

      WTF!? Steve (Watch The Film),

      Saint Pauly


      1. Ah, there is no “right” interpretation, only “your” interpretation, looking for another’s interpretation to be “right” is just Qohen waiting for his “call”. Also, I don’t think it’s coincidence that the femme fatale is named Bainsley:

        (The noun bane refers to anything that is a cause of harm, ruin, or death. The source of this word is Middle and Old English bana, meaning “destroyer, murderer.”) Bainsley could destroy Qohen’s path to the “end of suffering” prolonging his agony and deep down he knows it.

        Society (movie goers) want the happy ending and Qohen is tempted almost beyond his capacity to go with her, it’s intriguing that his youth (Bob) chastises him for not going but its obvious youth doesn’t have a clue in such matters. Qohen not leaving with Bainsley allows him to do his work, to finally break the neural net and be free, to have whatever he wants from a place of total freedom, even Bainsley.

        Thanks for the forum to post in 🙂


        1. Yes, indeed, I am definitely of the “there is no right or wrong answer” school of thought when it comes to art. Unless Gilliam came to us and told us what he meant, of course, and even then!

          Concerning the “happy ending”, I’m tempted to think your version where Qohen is not insane but on a different plane is the true happy ending. And, if memory serves, she is with him in that reality, as well.

          Also, is she a femme fatale? Certainly, there is an aspect to her sexuality that is very much sensory / physically centric, but there is a romantic side to her as well, which seems more sincere when she returns to talk to him.

          Thanks once again for your ideas!

          WTF!? Steve (Watch The Film),

          Saint Pauly


          1. She’s an unwitting femme fatale, desperate for someone to need her beyond her sexuality, she senses in Qohen something different and thinks that Qohen can save her, if he falls for it they are both lost IMHO. She is very sincere, she’s desperate but she’s missing key components, the same one’s Qohen’s looking for and it’s a singular journey.

            As far as the ending, Gilliam has said that Hollywood rewrote his ending and he had to chop the hell out of it so that it wasn’t a mushy piece of crap, I’m guessing Bainsley’s voice at the end is a Hollywood concession.


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