Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"We Are Waiting for Our Call"

^Qohen Leth, The Zero Theorem

Prepare yourself for a stupid amount of parentheticals. I'm sorry.

If you've been around here a while, you may remember that I talked about a class I took called "The Films of Terry Gilliam." If you haven't been around here a while... I took a class called "The Films of Terry Gilliam." It was amazing. Click HERE to read about it.

Anyway, my professor had a mutual friend with Pat Rushin, the man who wrote Terry Gilliam's new movie The Zero Theorem, and at the end of the semester we were lucky enough to read the script for ourselves--a year before the movie was released anywhere. SO COOL (and, as far as I know, SO not approved by Terry Gilliam? Shhh.) So I've been waiting for ages to see this movie.

Friday it finally came out in theaters in the US. (There are lots of things I could say about how movies are released, but we'll just leave it at "I was really excited because it took a long time.") My friend and I wouldn't have missed it for the world, so we trekked up to NYC to catch not just the movie, but a Q&A with Terry Gilliam. I'm not kidding. Terry Gilliam was there. In person. Like, real life, in person.

(We wanted to stick around afterwards to see if we could meet him, but we had to catch a bus, so we power-walked 40 blocks instead. Not quite as awesome.)

The Zero Theorem is about a man named Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz), who lives in a burnt-out chapel in the middle of a bright, loud, overwhelming, futuristic London. He crunches entities (they're more than numbers) for ManCom, some kind of enormous corporation run by a guy known only as Management (Matt Damon). Qohen spends his entire life awaiting a phone call that will tell him his purpose in life, and he fears leaving his house, lest he miss his life-affirming call. One day, Management recruits Qohen to take part in proving the Zero Theorem, in which 0% must equal 100%--mathematical proof that everything adds up to nothing. That the universe is nothing but a black hole, empty, devoid of meaning.

The film is filled with Gilliam's usual criticisms: corporations, advertising, government, technology, blind faith. All of them are important, of course. Every Gilliam film leaves me thinking about something. But the more I think about Qohen, the more I realize how much I identify with him. Qohen has been following me around, and I can't shake him.

There's a point in the movie where Qohen tells Bainsley (Melanie Thierry), his sort-of-virtual-girlfriend-type-lady-person, "We've always wanted to feel... different... unique... born to a higher calling." (It sure is convenient having the script at hand. Tee hee!) But when he became nothing but an ordinary, average human being, as most people are destined to do, he felt cosmically let down.

Qohen wants so badly to be special that he wastes his life away, isolated in this burnt-out remnant of a sacred space, a literal sanctuary. He waits for so long for this phone call, for someone to come out and explicitly tell him what his life is meant for, that his life means nothing. He is different. But it's because he is essentially an empty shell. His consciousness is the black hole that keeps appearing over and over again throughout the movie.

It's ironic, really. He misses so many opportunities to be important. Gilliam pointed out in his Q&A that the chapel is filled with white doves--visual representations of all of the things Qohen is missing out on. He hides himself in this place that is filled with so many chances to be significant, but he is so unwaveringly focused on this one thing--this thing that isn't even real--that he actually doesn't understand that there is anything else available to him.

I think it's significant that Qohen is so distressed by the truth about the Zero Theorem. Despite having withdrawn from anything meaningful, he still sees the potential that the universe has to offer. He knows that there is something out there for him, just not that he has to be the one to find it. He begins to doubt that this thing he's dedicated his life to is even real.

If Qohen proves the Zero Theorem, the phone call he's been waiting for (whether it's real or not) means nothing. He's wasted his life for nothing. But while Qohen knows that there's something bigger out there, he puts so much faith in it that he misses what's important; he misses life.

So here I am, waiting. Waiting for someone to talk to me. For someone to tell me I'm good at things. For someone to tell me what I can or should do with my life. Sometimes I am Qohen: hiding in my room, alone with my screens, just waiting for my life to take on one meaning or another. Afraid that if I leave my own metaphorical chapel and actually choose something, I'll miss the thing the universe meant for me. What if I pick something and the universe had something better to give me? If I choose a white dove and then the phone call finally comes--and I miss it?

Now Qohen represents to me what my life could turn into if I keep waiting. I think that's partly why I find him almost unbearably tragic. Because the thing he's waiting for is nonsense. How much of what I'm waiting for is nonsense?

Terry Gilliam is himself a lesson in taking what's yours and never looking back. If he waited for the world to hand him things, nothing he's ever done would have happened. Maybe it's not exactly what you thought you wanted, but you have to take something, or you'll end up with nothing.

Maybe the cosmos does have something in store for me. I believe that it does, anyway. But, no matter how long I wait, it's not going to give it to me. Maybe it'll drop some hints every now and again, but if, like Qohen, I really want to be different, unique, born for a higher purpose, I'm going to have to get there myself.

Maybe patience is a virtue, but the universe can wait a lot longer than you can.