Zeros and Ones
Zeros and Ones, starring Ethan Hawke, is bookended by clips of the actor (as himself) earnestly and inexplicably talking about the film, and mentioning how he was excited to see the director’s (Abel Ferrara) cinematic reaction to Covid-19. It’s as though someone accidentally included a clip meant for a DVD special feature with the theatrical release. If Ferrara had thought his pandemic project through, he might have realised that cinemas would largely be closed for his film’s release, meaning most viewers would watch it at home on an LCD screen with in-room glare. If so, perhaps most of the action wouldn’t take place in almost near darkness, meaning the most prominent visual image of Zeros and Ones is a reflection of the viewer’s own face.
The plot can be rather succinctly summarised as confusing and barely there. Hawke is JJ, an American soldier in Rome, who spends a night searching for his twin brother (also Hawke). There appears to be some fuzzy terrorist plot in the background, which is much ado about nothing. Beyond this basic understanding, it’s hard to fathom what exactly happens. JJ wanders from encounter to encounter, meeting homeless people, sex workers, other soldiers and mercenaries, all rendered in grainy, handheld camerawork – apparently shot on VHS, using equipment in dire need of servicing. Hawke at least acquits himself well, which is no mean feat, all things considered.
At times, the film is excruciatingly bad. The visual choices are downright weird, with the lack of lighting meaning that much of the story seems to be vaguely defined dark blobs interacting with other vaguely defined dark blobs, as they growl ponderous dialogue at each other. Their words are cryptic and largely meaningless. The actors’ lips are either obscured by darkness or concealed by face masks, so maybe their lines were dubbed in later? From a totally different film?
The story presumably has its own internal logic, although this is inaccessible for an external viewer. Surely Ferrara can’t be serious? Did he title his film Zeros and Ones because he could foresee that this would be the score that most critics would give it? In the post-film presentation from Ethan Hawke, he confesses that he really didn’t understand a word of the script. Same, Ethan. Same.
Zeros and Ones is released in select cinemas on 7th March 2022.
Watch the trailer for Zeros and Ones here: