Christopher Kezelos, “Zero” (2011)
A heart-warming little short that could have been a lot more than it was with a bigger budget and more ambition, “Zero” tells us that something, even infinity, can come out of … well, nothing. Into an imaginary class-conscious and hierarchical society where one’s status in life is determined at birth literally (because one’s lotto number is imprinted one’s body) is born Zero from coarse wool wrapped up in a ball and stuck on a body of pipe-cleaners wrapped in cloth then covered with more wool. From childhood to maturity, Zero suffers discrimination and bullying and ends up among outsiders like himself on the streets. Shunned by polite society, all of which look suspiciously Aryan in their pink wool and yellow or white top-knots, Zero seems condemned to skulk forever among rubbish-bins, cardboard boxes and garbage dumps … until he meets his soul-mate Zero-ette (for want of a better name). In spite of the continuing oppression which includes jail-time for Zero, the two discover love and a beautiful world in nature, and eventually their love produces a miracle that elevates them above all the other numbered beings in their world.
The animation piece is lovely to watch and viewers will feel for the main character and his friend, poised on their own against a hostile society, but its narrow scope and ambition and the form of the narrative restrict it to merely being a good little piece. Tolerance is not urged for the more unfortunate people in our society who have failed to live up to social expectations. Zero’s society has not really changed after the miracle arrives: Zero and his mate might have won new respect but only for themselves and their child, not for their class. Viewers get no sense that Zero and Zero-ette together have done something that demonstrates their intelligence, ability or self-sacrifice to their society; the other numbers may well treat them as glorified freaks for producing infinity.
The need for an off-screen narrator (Nicholas McKay) robs the story of some impact: had the action been all silent, there might have been more imaginative and experimental animation, the musical soundtrack would have been pushed to be more expressive and illustrative of plot developments, and the characters would have been forced to show more emotion and be more active, rather than passive. Real change in the numbered people’s attitudes towards the zero class in their society might have been possible.
There is not much explication of the kind of society that Zero lives in and the presence of an oppressive police force seems an after-thought. We are left to infer that the society is a strictly class-based one eerily resembling the civilised classes of Aldous Huxley’s novel “Brave New World” in which humans are moulded from conception on to fit their designated roles in society as alphas, betas, gammas, deltas and epsilons. At the end of the short, no major change is implicit in Zero’s society.
I would love to see Kezelos revisit Zero and his world and make much more of it. The result need not be complicated but just have enough to suggest that Zero’s society is changing to be more tolerant and to recognise that everyone has intrinsic value.