Terry Gilliam fans rejoice! The maverick director, who has spoken candidly about his funding problems in recent years, has finally been given the money to make a new feature film. An existential fantasy starring Oscar winner Christoph Waltz as an eccentric computer genius trying to discover the meaning of life, The Zero Theorem is set to enter pre-production in Bucharest over the next few days.
Gilliam himself revealed Waltz’s casting on his Facebook page. "Announcement!" he wrote, next to a photograph of the Austrian actor in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. "I’m heading off to Bucharest to start work on my new film, The Zero Theorem. It stars everybody’s favourite Nazi, the great Christoph Waltz. Very original script about a man waiting for a telephone call that will give meaning to his life. Some other things happen as well. It’s profound and funny in more or less equal measures. We’re going to have fun. I’ll keep you posted as the cast expands."
Gilliam told the Guardian’s Xan Brooks in January that waiting for the funds to embark on his next film project had become "a dull throb" of an existence. "It’s been three years now since I’ve been behind a camera on a feature film," he said. "The time just flies past: I’ve been filling my time with two shorts and an opera. It’s something to keep me occupied while we’re in this eternal waiting room for the money for the next project."
The Zero Theorem will be Gilliam’s first full-length work since 2009′s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. The US-born film-maker’s most recent project is the short piece The Wholly Family, which was made with funds from an Italian pasta company and can be watched via the Guardian’s pay-per-view service. Last year he debuted his version of Berlioz’s "unstageable" opera The Damnation of Faust for the English National Opera. It received roundly positive reviews.
Further details about The Zero Theorem were revealed yesterday by the Deadline blog prior to the director’s announcement. The new film appears to have more than a hint of Gilliam’s 1985 dystopian fantasy Brazil about it. Lead character Qohen Leth (Waltz) reportedly lives in an Orwellian world in which an authoritarian figure known as Management keeps an eye on citizens via roving Big Brother-style "mancams". Leth lives as a virtual recluse while he tries to solve the titular conundrum, which will either prove or disprove the meaningfulness of existence. He’s visited by two acquaintances: Bainsley, described as a flamboyantly lusty love interest determined to engage Leth in "tantric biotelemetric interfacing" (virtual sex), and Bob – Management’s rebellious whizkid son. The latter eventually creates a virtual reality "inner space" suit designed to carry Leth 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", according to Deadline’s report.
Quite what the new movie’s arrival means for Gilliam’s incredibly long-gestating Don Quixote film is at this stage unclear, though it would appear to be no closer to entering production. The former Python was famously forced to scrap The Man Who Killed Don Quixote in 1999 after a freak storm destroyed the Spanish set of his dream project, a tragedy catalogued in the documentary Lost in La Mancha. However, he revealed in November 2008 that the project was to reshoot and announced in Cannes two years later that Ewan McGregor and Robert Duvall would replace Johnny Depp and Jean Rochefort in the leading roles. Sadly, Variety reported in September 2010 that funding had collapsed and Gilliam was once again searching for benefactors.
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