Where most films tend to open with a title sequence or an adjacent conga line of synchronous production logos, Abel Ferrara’s Zeros and Ones opens in a far more peculiar fashion. Instead of the expected, audiences are first greeted upon a warm introduction from the one-and-only Ethan Hawke. A video that was originally produced during the pre-production phase of Ferrara’s latest joint into the miscellaneous fears and anxieties of the current pandemic era — Hawke sets his viewer with a high set of expectations in regards to Ferrara’s dedicated direction. Though ultimately, while the thought of promoting one of his dear collaborators is certainly an admirable gesture, Zeros and Ones fails to live up to Hawke’s own proclaimed set of expectations. Instead, Ferrara offers a derivative reflection piece that infuses motifs on brotherhood and civil unrest to various nonsensical degrees of head-ache inducing bunk.
Whether it’s the film’s dimly lit atmosphere that makes it nearly impossible to comprehend any of the ongoing action on screen, or the film’s low definition photography that mimics the poor-quality rendering of a surveillance camera — there’s a few technical details featured within Zeros and Ones that provide some sort of intelligible rationale to further exemplify Ferrara’s messy thematics. Ferrara borders on satire and self-parody in his observations on domestic terrorism and duelling political oppositions (albeit likely unintentional based on Ferrera’s recent track record of self-gratifying features), where the questionable espionage-centric narrative frequently reverts and recycles its own unfocused and cluttered end-goals in various nauseating forms.
To put it lightly, Zeros and Ones is alienating cinema at its most gratuitously obnoxious; a film with barely enough self-awareness or even justification to warrant itself a feature length treatment. It’s basically an experimental home-movie hellbent on mutilating its own pompous aesthetic. But maybe that’s also part of its appeal. Ferrara’s latest is an Italy-set, low-budget, self-referential production that shares the same amount of emotional complexity with a film-school shit-post — draped with a cloak of egotistical absurdity.
And of course, the film ends with another message from Ethan Hawke. As the credits wrap, Hawke is seen sitting in his studio; adorned with a fashionable pair of glasses. In a hesitant dribble, the Oscar-nominated actor proclaims and analyses Ferrara’s themes and fears of the future and beyond. But by this point — even with the occasionally entertaining moment of Hawke attempting to make sense of Abel’s cinematic nonsense — there’s nothing left to save. Zeros and Ones is a film that ultimately falters for Ferrara’s own pretentious jargon; a messy contemplation piece that fails to compel and even provide reasonable impact within its chaotic timeline of meandering subplots and dreary thematics. But to reiterate once again, who doesn’t like a messy train-wreck that is virtually impossible to look away from?