Terry Gilliam returns to genre filmmaking

The abstract filmmaker is returning to the frontier.

Time Bandits, Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Von Munchhausen, and Twelve Monkeys. These four films are modern classics of fantasy with interesting visuals, deep themes, compelling characters, and some of the darkest, driest, lampooning humor in the history of genre filmmaking. All four of them were written and directed by Monty Python Alum Terry Gilliam.

Since Twelve Monkeys in 1995, Gilliam has made a few interesting films. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus have some fantasy elements, but it’s been 17 years since the visionary writer/director has finished a new wholly fantastic project.

There have been a couple of attempts, including The Man who Killed Don Quixote, a time travel film in the vein of Twain’s Connecticut Yankee, which was intended to be a sort of spiritual successor to The Adventures of Baron Von Munchhausen, but which was delayed after only two days of shooting in 2000 due to an injury on the set, and was afterward returned to development, from which it seems it will never emerge again – though it has seen activity every few years.

The Zero Theorem has been in development since 2009, and is now taking the first steps toward real production. The script is complete and the lead role has been cast. Christopher Waltz will play the part of Qohen Leth – a Spiritual Physicist working for the government in a dystopian future. From the description of the plot, it sounds like Gilliam is returning to the spirit of Brazil:

Living in an Orwellian corporate world where “mancams” serve as the eyes of a shadowy figure known only as Management, Leth (Waltz) works on a solution to the strange theorem while living as a virtual cloistered monk in his home–the shattered interior of a fire-damaged chapel. His isolation and work are interrupted now and then by surprise visits from Bainsley, a flamboyantly lusty love interest who tempts him with “tantric biotelemetric interfacing” (virtual sex) and Bob. Latter is the rebellious whiz-kid teenage son of Management who, with a combination of insult-comedy and an evolving true friendship, spurs on Qohen’s efforts at solving the theorem…Bob creates a virtual reality “inner-space” suit that will carry Qohen on an inward voyage, a close encounter with the hidden dimensions and truth of his own soul, wherein lie the answers both he and Management are seeking. The suit and supporting computer technology will perform an inventory of Qohen’s soul, either proving or disproving the Zero Theorem.

It sounds interesting, and a bit trippy. With the right production values and the right talent, this could be another classic of modern fantasy filmmaking. It wouldn’t be prudent to get our hopes up too much though. With Gilliam’s recent luck in making films, it may end up in development hell for years, even with a star attached.

There are no production or release dates yet announced for The Zero Theorem.