Update: since the publication of this piece, The Zero Theorem is now hitting theatres Aug. 1.
Here's one of the saddest sentences I can imagine typing in my career: Terry Gilliam's The Zero Theorem is going straight to video.
Actually, there are two things that are sad about that sentence. First, the idea that a Terry Gilliam film is completely bypassing Toronto theatres - I mean, seriously, what the hell - but also that "straight to video" no longer means much of anything.
This Sunday (July 20), The Zero Theorem will have its Canadian premiere at the Fantasia festival in Montreal. (It's already sold out, so don't bother booking a trip.) And on Tuesday (July 22), Mongrel Media will release it on Blu-ray, DVD and iTunes. No commercial theatrical release; no local festival play. It'll probably turn up on Netflix in a few months, but that's it.
Maybe this is a sign of age, or a sign of blinkered film-critic privilege, but I'm flabbergasted that The Zero Theorem didn't get, say, a week at the Lightbox or the Royal. It stars Christoph Waltz and features Tilda Swinton and Matt Damon; surely that's enough to get a few tickets sold per night, right?
I mean, sure, it's weird - after all, it's a Terry Gilliam picture, and the unofficial closer of the dystopic trilogy he began with Brazil and Twelve Monkeys. Set in a glum near-future, the picture follows Qohen Leth (Waltz), a mathematical genius toiling in the massive research division of an all-powerful corporation.
True to Gilliam's lifelong fascination with chaos, Leth is working on the opposite of a grand unification theory, pursuing a rationale that life, the universe and everything is, ultimately, utterly meaningless. He's getting close, which is why his employers' rivals are doing their best to distract him - and that's where the real fun starts.
It'd be a crime against art to reveal any more of the plot, which you'll be able to discover for yourself in a few days' time. But my experience of watching The Zero Theorem at home - even on Blu-ray, in a 1080p/24 projection - was nowhere near close to the experience of watching any of Gilliam's other movies in a theatre with other people.
That's because Terry Gilliam is a filmmaker I love, and the idea of watching his movies alone is just a little bit depressing. The experience of poking around in his brain without other people sharing in the discovery just isn't the same.
Whether it's the New York premiere of Twelve Monkeys, or the botched Toronto press screening of The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus with the reels out of order, Gilliam's movies thrive on being shared by people. I can only describe the feeling as a kind of parallel processing, where you can feel a joke or an idea move through the auditorium at different rates of speed, as individual viewers react to this moment or that image in their own specific way. Gilliam isn't the only filmmaker who can create that experience, of course, but in my experience he's the only one who does it every single time.
The Zero Theorem marks the first time I haven't been able to have that experience, and it feels like a sea change. If Terry Gilliam can't rate a theatrical release, who else might be vulnerable?
In slightly more encouraging news, Tobe Hooper's 1974 masterpiece The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is back on the big screen in Toronto tonight, as the 4K digital restoration commissioned by Dark Sky Films for a future Blu-ray release arrives at The Royal for a limited run. I haven't seen the restoration, but I expect it will be as ugly and grimy as the movie's always looked, only with fewer splices.
And if you're looking for something truly unusual tonight, check out Insomniac Film Festival 2014 tonight (Friday) at the Rainbow Cinemas Market Square. Eighteen filmmakers have contributed short works, which will be screened starting at 11:30 pm. Admission is five bucks. The trailer is weird. What else do you need to know?