The Zero Theorem Review

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Terry Gilliam’s latest movie is one of his masterpieces.  The Zero Theorem, staring Christoph Waltz, is a subversive science fiction movie that uses the future to show us our present.  It is full of ideas, great performances, and is a visual wonder.

The movie follows Q, someone that works a mundane office job, as he tries to solve the zero theorem, which is a mathematical equation that will prove that life is meaningless.  Q is a damaged individual that takes no joy out of life.  He is an introvert that tries as much as possible to avoid human communication.  He wants to work from home, so that he has even less contact with others.  He unwillingly goes to a party at his supervisor’s house.  There he meets the boss of his company who grants his wish to work from home as long as he will work on the theorem.  At the party he also meets a young and beautiful woman that shows interest in him.

Q spends his days waiting for a phone call that he believes will give him the meaning of his life.  Much of the film deals in symbolism like this.  The phone call represents anything outside of ourselves that we believe will give us the answer to life’s mystery.  The dialog in the film, like the film itself, jumps back and forth between the absurdly comic and of a more philosophical nature.  However, just because the film deals heavily in symbolism, does not mean that the main characters are not three dimensional or that the world is not fully realized.

Visually the film is an absolute masterpiece, both for the cinematography, the realization of the world that the characters in habited, and the sheer amount of ideas that are on the screen.  In Q’s house there is a crucifixion where Jesus’s head is replaced by a camera that watches Q’s every move.  In his office he is working on what looks like an absurd video game with a video game controller replacing the typical office keyboard.  I have worked several office jobs in the last ten years and working on a meaningless video game is not too far from the truth of what a great deal of office work is like.

The colors explode on screen.  Every scene looks like it was carefully orchestrated.  Every nook and cranny of the film looks like it had thought put into it.

The film is like our world, but on steroids.  If the capitalism that runs our country is allowed to continue one can imagine that this is what our world will turn into.  Commercials follow Q down the street as he commutes to work.  The party scene, with its garish colors and cartoonish behavior, looks like a modern nightclub taken to its logical conclusion.  The characters work ridiculous jobs that bring no meaning to their lives.  Terry Gilliam is showing us the absurdity of our world.  He is just pushing things a little further so that the everyday becomes new again.

Even though this film is very subversive, it is not without heart.  I don’t want to spoil the ending, but the film is not without some small sliver of hope.  Gilliam knows what is important despite how much we get wrong.

If you are a fan of Gilliam’s work than I highly recommend this film.  if you don’t know any of his work, but are willing to try something that will make you think, then give this film a try.  Some critics have described this film as Gilliam-lite, but I don’t agree.  This is a unique filmmaker operating at the height of his powers.  This is like a modern update of his masterpiece Brazil.   While Brazil dealt with a dreamer in the middle of a  bureaucracy, this movie imagines a future where corporations run everything.

On a personal note I watched this movie the night of the election.  Feeling somewhat depressed I decided to watch something else other then the returns.  It was one of those instances where art makes one feel less alone.  I thought, “Thank god someone understands what is going on.”  Gilliam is a tremendous filmmaker and we are lucky to have him amongst us.  He is one of those rare souls that uses his imagination to paint the world as it truly is.

Regional Music and Political Differences

One of the reasons that America has had such a great musical tradition was that it is such a vast country with so many different kinds of people.  In the past you truly had a lot of regional music.  You would have different kinds of folk or blues music in different parts of the country.  The music in Tennessee would be very different than the music in Pennsylvania or Texas.  Many rural parts of the country were artistically somewhat cut off from the world at large so music was allowed to mutate differently in different regions.  Then on top of it these different styles would come to cities and each city would develop its own style based on the way styles combined. 

This is still true in different ways.  There are still regional differences, although they aren’t as pronounced.  Definitely different regions prefer certain types of music.  But I am talking about true regional music, and not just stylistic differences.  I am talking about how blues created in Mississippi differed greatly from Chicago blues, and not blues vs. country or whatever.

One reason you don’t see as much regional music is people have more access to other parts of the world.  You are only a YouTube video away from seeing what is going on in another city, for example.  In the past music traveled a much slower and less direct route. 

However, I am noticing that a lot of conservative areas feature the same bland corporate music that every other area does.  Corporate country is the most typical.  This is some of the worst stuff ever.  Music that is country in name only.  It is basically corporate pop music with a slight accent and maybe a fiddle in the background. 

I can’t help but feel that large national and multinational corporations are bleeding our culture dry.  This is the opposite of what I talked about in the last post.  I said we need to think outside of our own tribes and cultures.  In terms of making political decisions I think this is true.  But while large corporations are praying upon our cultural differences to divide and conquer, they are also crushing the differences that are worth keeping. 

We end up with a culture that is homogenized,  bland, and uninteresting, while at the same time we are divided politically where we can least afford to be.  Yes, both are possible, and both are happening.  Instead of the two canceling each other out, as one would suspect, the two compliment each other.  They reinforce the fear that people have of their traditions and culture being threatened, while shifting the blame for this from the large corporations to the “outsiders”. 

At least that is my take on it, for what it is worth.  Our country is turning into one giant strip mall, and we are being taught to kill each other over what store someone likes to shop in.

Corporate Education

Chomsky On the Big Business and Universities

I will shamefully admit to having never read anything by Chomsky other than the above article.  I know that he is a polarizing figure.  I think the above article is very interesting and insightful.  It is about how the universities are being run more and more like corporations and how that is adversely affecting education in this country for the worst.

Key quote:  That ought to be the purpose of education. It’s not to pour information into somebody’s head which will then leak out but to enable them to become creative, independent people who can find excitement in discovery and creation and creativity at whatever level or in whatever domain their interests carry them.

When I went back to school over a year ago I remember feeling deeply disappointed in the education I was receiving, despite the fact that I was technically going to a better school than the one where I got my first degree.  It seemed much more worker bee oriented.  The first time I went to school, in the late 90’s, I was young and naive and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.  I did not make the most of my education.  This time around I thought it would be different because I have developed a true love of reading and learning.  I expected heady discussions and challenging ideas.  For the most part I found group work, silly projects, and peer to peer learning, instead of being pushed to think and question things by professors. This is not true across the board, but it seemed to be more the case than not.  I spoke a lot with my girlfriend about having a similar experience in the same timeframe.  My mom was a grade school teacher and my Dad is a college professor.  We constantly talk about how education is moving further and further away from critical thinking.  Critical thinking seems to be low in this country in general.  In a democracy having a population that can critically think is the most important thing to having a government that works on behalf of the populace and not just for those in power.  If you feel troubled by the events unfolding in the world, but can’t quite put your finger on it, my first response would be to start going to the library.

Hipsters and Air Travel

Occasionally traveling makes me want to croak the entire human race in one big shitwind.  It’s being in an airport and being sandwiched between the corporation that treats you like a piece of meat and the people in line who treat the lowest rung employees of that corporation like shit, even though they are caught up in the machine just like we are.  It’s just a passing feeling mind you.  It’s like one of those spring rains that comes in out of nowhere when the sky is still sunny and leaves just as quick.  It’s the chemistry of the body taking over for the consciousness of the mind.

Sometimes I like being in a foreign country where I can’t understand anyone.  I can imagine camaraderie, joy, and peace being debated around me, even though I am sure people are talking about largely the same things people talk about everywhere, to a greater or lesser extent.  Maybe their not saying things as stupid as “drill baby, drill” or “‘Merica”, but I’m sure that violence and avarice have their place.

Despite these musings, once I am home for an hour or two with my dog and a good meal in me, I know that my feelings of hope for planet earth will return.

Today it was the cockroach hipster in line with me, making jibes at the middle aged woman trying her hardest to sort things out, that finally broke me.  It wasn’t her fault there was bad weather and that U.S. air travel has become a joke.

Hipsters:  Just another group of followers wearing costumes to belong.  They just happen to wear skinny jeans and goofy looking mustaches instead of business suits and ties.  They may think that they are superior and individualistic, but they are wearing their version of a McDonald’s outfit all the same.

Happy Monday!

Godless Consumerism in the Bible Belt

I have Kevin Russell to partially thank for this bit of wisdom I acquired today:  When you are searching for a place to eat on Sunday in the Bible Belt, and all the local establishments are closed due to church, sometimes the Godless consumerism of corporate chain restaurants works in your favor. 

What is Selling Out These Days?

As I creep slowly up the music business food chain and have thought about the state of the music business, I have had to think about what the term selling out means.  I grew up when the music business was healthy.  I also grew up following the punk and independent music scene quite closely.  There were people who “sold out” and who “didn’t sell out”.  It meant various things to various people, and was never clearly defined, but it was more so than today.  Lou Reed made a Honda commercial, but I don’t think anyone could ever accuse him of selling out.  Meanwhile a band like Fugazi never even allowed themselves to be interviewed in magazines that had booze or tobacco ads.  Johnny Rotten, John Lydon, did a butter ad a couple years ago, but he claimed this was only to get Public Image Ltd, a very avant garde band, back to making records.  Sometimes things stick to artists and sometimes they don’t.   Really I think you have to measure someone’s whole career and determine if they have artistic integrity.

Back in the renaissance,  in Italy, there was a rich and powerful family named the Medici family.  They funded the arts heavily.  They were patrons of such artists as Michaelangelo.   Basically in one way or another artists need their Medici family.  It is preferable if this is done through funding through the general public, as lots of small patrons cannot really force an artist to compromise their vision. 

However, what do you do in an age when no one is buying records the way they once were?  Art costs money to make.  Bills still need to be paid. 

You see more and more artists making corporate partnerships in order to survive.  More and more artists also appear in commercials as mainstream radio has been neutered almost completely.   This makes me uncomfortable because large corporations often act unethically.  Part of the purpose of art is to speak truth to power.  It becomes harder to do, though it is not impossible, if an artist is funded by that power.  No one will accuse John Lydon anytime soon of biting his tongue.  But he was well established by the time he made a commercial.  I do think that the relationship between corporations and artists is corrupting,  if not to every artist, then at least in the industry overall.  If it is hard to pinpoint exactly who has been corrupted,  it does seem like there is less art speaking truth to power than during the 60’s or the punk rock era. 

I don’t have the answer to these questions.  I just think it is worth thinking about.  I do think that it is important that individuals support artists with their own money through buying of records, supporting radio stations that don’t have corporate playlists, etc.  In a capitalist society you vote with your money.  If you want art that means something you need to be willing to pay for it.  I am still a person that buys almost all of my records, because I view it as investing in an art that means something to me.  Music has, if not literally saved my life, definitely kept me sane.  I want there to continue to be artists that aren’t afraid to speak their mind and to expose their soul. 

Faster Than Comcast

Comcast’s worst nightmare: How Tennessee could save America’s Internet http://www.salon.com/2014/07/18/comcasts_worst_nightmare_how_tennessee_could_save_americas_internet_partner/ via @Salon

Great article about how public utilities are serving customers better than the telecommunications companies.  It shows both that public investments are sometimes better than private companies, and if big corporations lose they will abandon their free market principles faster than rats on a sinking ship.