Arch 443/646: Architecture and Film
Fall 2008

A Zed and Two Noughts (1985)
Peter Greenaway, director


Discussion Questions:

Please answer the questions below. Use paragraph form. Your answer should be around 400 words. Email me your responses in Word .doc format to: I will be posting these each week after the class. You should be prepared to deliver your answer in class -- but paraphrase, do not read it. There are 29 students and we can take no more than 1 hour and 15 minutes for our discussions.


This is a very graphic and disturbing film. I apologize in advance for those of you who might find it a bit challenging to watch. I wanted to include a film by Greenaway as he is a director who really works the architectural setting in his films and is a good parallel to Kubrick for this type of evaluation. I have shown Belly of An Architect in past years, but wanted to change this up in part to look at something new, and because the issues of manipulating reality through the use of architecture is much stronger in this film than Belly.

thanks! Terri

updated Saturday, January 2, 2010 10:35 PM

"I truly believe that there cannot be a medium more artificial than cinema."
Peter Greenaway - from DVD narration


1. Matthew Barbesin

Greenaway’s background was that of a painter. How does this education feed into the use of colour in the film? And how does this use of colour manipulate the realities he is presenting?

Greenaway was inspired by the mid 17th century painters and used their painting techniques the structure the way the film was shot. Greenway was especially inspired by the work Vemeer. In most of Vermeer’s paintings, light comes in from the left, about 4 feet off the ground, emphasizing the placement of people and objects. Greenway shot most scenes like this.
Almost every shot is composed like a painting. Many of the shots are symmetrical, walls are filmed flat so that the horizontal lines are parallel with the top and bottom of the frame. Objects are placed on tables as if subjects for a still life. Lighting is used in an alternation of light, shade, light, shade receding to the back of the picture, which is a signature of the type of 17th century, Western art that Greenaway is paying homage to.

One technique that Greenway uses often was the use of light and shadow, and how these lighting elements influence the use of colour. Red was often cast in light to make the colour seem more vibrant and noticeable. Other characters were masked in the shadows, to give importance to other things.

Colours themselves played another role in Greenway’s movie, much like they did in 17th century paintings. Red was often used to invoke a sense of passion. An example in the movie was when Oswald Duece angrily threw a vase of red flowers on the bed of Alba. Also most characters were clothed in black or white.

The use of symmetry was another technique used by Greenaway. Most shots were filmed in complete symmetry when Alba had one leg. But when she lost both, shot were filmed from her profile. The break of symmetry in the film was used to emphasis a character or object in the room.


2. Stephanie Boutari

Greenaway’s background was that of a painter. How does this education feed into his use of light in the film? And how does this use of light manipulate the realities he is presenting?

The parts of the film Zed and two Naughts where the use of light appeared to be most influenced by the director's background as a painter are the scenes in the bedroom and lounge of Beta. The view of her laying on her bed with the two brothers on either side is repetitively used throughout the film as a theme. The lighting of this room is distinct from other locations of the movie as it is particularly ambient, emanating a glow that would brighten any movie theatre. The colours in the room are subtle and hard to distinguish from each other or from the general white around them - even Beta's red hair does not stand out in contrast, but glows like the soft light of the room that comes through the large translucent white curtains. I relate these light conditions to the way a realist painter may manipulate light and shadows because he or she would not simply paint light as white or shadows as black, but rather use an array of colours that are so light or so dark to achieve the general effect of darkness or light that is subtle.

Another frequent type of scene in the film that should be noted is that of the animals or the apple that is displayed for the brothers to film their decomposition. The composition of these elements is much like a still life, as is the lighting - not in the sense of light's subtlety but the way which light is used to dramatically highlight the subject being viewed.


3. Laura Fenwick

Greenaway’s background was that of a painter. How does this education feed into his use of the paintings of Vermeer in this film? And how does this use of paintings manipulate the realities he is presenting? (from the perspective of the actual paintings, NOT the characters in the painting as that will be another question).

The direction of Zed and Two Noughts, Peter Greenaway was initially a painter before becoming interested in European cinema. He was particularly interested in the work of Dutch painter Jan Vermeer. The paintings of Jan Vermeer apply particularly to the world of cinematography as they capture the two essentials of film; the split second of action and drama revealed by light. It was perhaps this aspect that drew Peter Greenaway to make many references to Vermeer and his paintings in the film Zed and Two Noughts.

The composition of Vermeers paintings is always created in the same way so as to create the same mood in each painting. Vermeer does this most particularly through the use of light. The direction of light in Vermeer’s paintings is always certain. The light is always coming from the left of the frame and approximately four and a half feet off ground level. This use of light is evident in Vermeer’s “The Music Lesson”, a scene which is attempted to be replicated in the movie by Van Meegeren.
It’s interesting that the character Van Meegeren was so interested in replicating the works of Vermeer in the film as this is most definitely a reference to a infamous Vermeer forger who also goes by the name of Van Meegeren. As the film progresses the paintings of Vermeer shown become less and less authenticated. This could be a subtle reference to the idea of decay shown so explicitly in the film. Greenaway could be showing more and more forged Vermeer paintings to symbolise the decay of respect and humanity in society. The character Van Meegeren is also not respected much in the film, which is possibly a reference to Peter Greenaway’s feelings towards the real Vermeer forger who goes by the same name.

In Zed and Two Noughts, Peter Greenaway attempted to recreate the mood of a Vermeer painting by shooting each scene in the same way Vermeer would compose one of his paintings. Each scene was deliberately set-up to replicate the vanishing points, symmetry and parallel lines of a painting. This was done to direct the eye to certain places in the scene in exactly the same way a painting would do. Most importantly however, was the replicating of the way Vermeer used light in the film as this use of light is most unique to the paintings of Vermeer. Each scene was attempted to be replicated in this way however the extensive use of animals and outdoor shots in the film made these scenes unpredictable and hence, these scenes were not composed in the same way.


4.Li Ting (Nora) Guan

Greenaway’s background was that of a painter. How does this education feed into his use of the characters in the paintings of Vermeer in this film? And how does this use of characters manipulate the realities he is presenting?

To watch “Zed”, one has to understand Vermeer’s painting. Vermeer is a Dutch Baroque painter who is renowned for his masterly treatment and use of light in his work. Greenaway is also very sensitive throughout the film to the use of light. He reveals Vermeer’s light in the painting into cinema by various lighting techniques. Each of Vermeer’s painting has a story behind it. Greenaway adds a third dimension, time, into the painting and make the film into a moving painting. As watching the movie, audiences can feel as if they could live in these stories. The mimicking of Vermeer’s work also creates a sense of ambiguity and mysteriousness to the role of each character.

The characters in Zed are in parallel to the ones in Vermeer’s painting. Women are associated with sexuality and life while men are associated with science and art. Three male characters are the twins, who study zoo and photography, and the doctor who likes to paint. The doctor is in parallel to the painter in “the art of painting”. The doctor is introduced with a question: “who is that man?” Oswald asks. Alba replies that he is her surgeon but “he wants to be a painter, a Dutch painter – the Dutch painter Vermeer, no less.” Apparently, Greenaway portrayed the doctor as Vermeer. The scene of Alba playing piano draws in parallel with “the music lesson”. But Alba is sitting down while the painting itself clearly shows the girl standing. Most of Vermeer’s drawings of women are focused on their upper bodies. This matches with the legless women in Zed. The lady in red portrays a peculiar relationship with the doctor. Finally, the twins are representative of the two paintings of the astronomer and the geographer. Both of them are believed to portray the same man in Vermeer’s drawings. To conclude, Greenaway uses Vermeer’s painting to make a moving painting and a series of carefully composed scenes. Each of the characters is associated with one of Vermeer’s painting. The mimicking in the film is used to present a mysteriousness as well as ambiguity of the transformation of each character.


5. Matt Hartney

Greenaway makes significant use of mirrors throughout the film. Describe how this fits into the sense of twinning in the film. And how does this use of twinning manipulate the realities he is presenting?

Mirrors are used variably to present an altered version of reality in Peter Greenaway’s A Zed & Two Noughts. Often mirrors show the opposing side of a character while the other faces the viewer, implying the inherent duality of human nature, while in other scenes they are used to introduce an off-camera character into a scene, adding a voyeuristic dimension to their use. These usages both reinforce the use of twinning or symmetry and serve to interrupt that symmetry by adding an unbalanced element.
Scenes in which mirrors are used to give a complete picture of a character often involve key moments in a character’s development, as in the scene in which Alba is playing the piano. Here, she has lost only the first of her legs, and is strapped to the piano bench to avoid tipping off while she plays.  She fumbles out a meager tune before exclaiming ‘I’m imprisoned!’ The audience sees her from the back, with her dress covering the piano bench, while the mirror displays her tortured face in this moment of distress. It seems that we receive a clear picture of her at this moment, despite the fact that her ailment is concealed. This use of the double image as a trickery of omission is found throughout the film, as in scenes where a mirror reveals an off-camera character.

Alba’s limb fitting is a scene where a mirror placed at the centre of the bed in a perfectly symmetrical shot is used to add an imbalance. The lady in red is viewing this event from the hallway and can be seen appearing midway through the prosthetic limb fitting. The third figure introduces an obvious asymmetry acting both to reinforce the imbalance of Alba’s current state and also to act as a foil for the perfect renaissance-like symmetry of the scene.

This use of mirrors supports into a overarching obsession with twins, pairs, doubles, or deuces that is found throughout the film. The idea of wholeness as expressive of a perfect symmetry between man and woman or life and death preoccupies Greenaway and is both reinforced and contrasted by the use of mirrors as both the double image or complete picture, and also as window into something previously unseen.



6. Michael Hasey

Compare the use of the architectural setting in ZED with the use of the architectural setting in Lisbon Story and Paris Je T'aime? Does Greenaway's use of architectural setting manipulate the reality he is presenting in a different/similar way to the other films?

The architectural setting within Greenways film ZED is presented within a limited set of built environments.  Such environments, like the hotel room, the theatre, the research lab, the hospital, and the zoo, although detailed and unique, seem to lack vernacular expression.  Unlike location-driven films like Lisbon Story and Paris Je T’aime that clearly identify setting, ZED tends to hide the facts, and keeps the location hidden. The hotel room for example, contains only simple architectural elements and basic furniture, and could theoretically be located anywhere in the world.  Similarly, the theatre, although playing an English film, looks like any other theatre and does not define a location or larger setting in which the film takes place.  The entire film in fact, is geographically hidden, with the location never being revealed.  Therefore, the connectivity of environments within the film ZED, rather than giving rise to a larger location and sense of city, is replaced by a disorganized and disassociated compilation of architectural settings that confuse and dissatisfy the audience.   In films like Lisbon Story and Paris Je T’aime, the architectural settings are revealed rather than being hidden and broken apart. Both films clearly depict, through sound, image, and text, a unification of setting clearly defining the location in which the film takes place.  Vernacular styles, and clear distinction of icons reveal a sense of place that seemed to lack in ZED, giving the audience a sense of clarity and comprehension.  Other methods include the presentation of clear connections and references between scenes, the use of common cultural motifs and styles, and the display of vernacular architecture.



7. Richard Kim

Symbolism plays a large role in the structure of the film and its narrative. Describe the role of the Apple as it is used to present or support a manipulaton of reality.


8. Clayton Lent

Symbolism plays a large role in the structure of the film and its narrative. Describe the role of the Snail/Escargot as it is used to present or support a manipulation of reality.

The snail as a symbol in A Zed and Two Noughts comes to represent two main ideas or qualities: First, primordial soup and the return to mush. Second, the more literal interpretation, a species which is seemingly benign, as sort of tiny outcast character. The first carefully creates a view of reality while the second manipulates the reality in the film through relation of the snail to the main characters.

The narrative of the film revolves around the cycle of life and death, the snail in particular points to the connection of these phenomenon. Oliver Deuce refers directly to the Snail’s significance when he describes them in reference to ‘The long, continuous, procession’. His obsession with death in all of it’s forms coincides with an obsession with the little mollusks. He speaks of their connection to ‘ooze, slime,(&) murk’ while we are bombarded with images of life rotting to the point of slurry. This constructed connection is then developed further when Oliver explains snails to Venus de Milo as a ‘primitive form of life, hermaphrodites,(that) can satisfy their own needs’. Thus, the slow, slimy progression of the snail is completed as a symbol for the cycle of life, the necessity of birth, and the inevitability of death. The representation structures Oliver’s particular struggle with life and death through the film.

The third quote presents the image of the snail as a sympathetic outcast. Oliver undisputedly shows an affection for snails. He seems to identify with the snail as a sort of victim in the natural world. The symbol of the snail supports the construction of the odd, constructed reality the two brothers develop. Snails are shown feeding in the undergrowth and living under dead logs. They are shown only once as escargot. This particular form is the most benign, dead and prepared for ingestion. The benign role of the snail then takes on a particular significance in the structure of the narrative. The snail is slow but effective, in the end it ruined the brother final experiment. In either case of symbology described above the snail permeates the film and is used to represent a ‘force of nature.’


9. Kevin Lisoy

Symbolism plays a large role in the structure of the film and its narrative. Describe the role of the Zebra as it is used to present or support a manipulation of reality.

Peter Greenaway uses symbols throughout his film to relate characters and events.  Of all the symbols, the zebra is perhaps one of the most fundamental.  Looking at the entire length of the film, the zebra is the best linking symbol of the film.  The Zebra represents the end; the omega.  A Zed and Two Noughts is constantly referencing life cycles, end and beginning and A to Z.  The “narrator” of the story, the small child, Beta, who places a scene in relation to thezed entire film by precedents it with a zoo animal and letter of the alphabet finishes with the Zebra, thereby introducing the conclusion to the film.  The Zebra itself represents a synthesis of the two ultimate colors.  White and black.  No color and all the colors.
The zebra is the last animal to decompose, but the initial car crash takes place at a zebra crossing.

It manipulates reality by foreshadowing, linking and signifying events throughout the film.  It represents the beginning and the end, life and death.



10. Anne Ma

Symbolism plays a large role in the structure of the film and its narrative. Describe the role of the Swan as it is used to present or support a manipulation of reality.

swanThe swan is most often associated with qualities of gracefulness, calmness and beauty. Its colour white is a symbol of purity and life. In the film, A Zed and Two Noughts, the beginning scene features a rare swan involved in a car crash at a zoo killing two women, the wives of twin zoologists. The swan acts as a trigger for the entire film’s course of events in which the Deuce brothers obsess with the natural decay of animals and its relationship to mortal life. While a symbol of life and purity, the swan is put side by side in this film to death and decay. Evidently, Greenaway shows the swan not gracefully skimming the surface of a pond, but dead, frail and wilted.

zed-2-227.jpgThe death of the swan signifies the death of beauty and perfection in life. The commonly associated symbolism of the swan is manipulated just as the minds of the twin zoologists are in their attempt to understand life through watching multiple life forms decay, one of which is the swan itself. The inherent reversal of the swan’s symbolism at the start of the film as not relating to life, but death, brings forth a continual string of obsessions with decay, suffering and grievance. What could possibly be observed as an ordinary death by coincidence of an animal seems to have stricken up an abnormal obsession in meddling with the natural order of things. The death of the swan thus represents an end to the brother’s normal train of thought, and the start of a strange fascination with fatality. In addition, the swan’s death serves to foreshadow the theme of suffering and death as the film progresses. Many more deaths happen from this point on, including the animals the zoologists experiment on (fish, crocodile, dog, zebra), the driver of the crashed car Alba Bewick, the zoo prostitute Venus de Milo, and finally the twins themselves.

As such, the swan is seen as a symbol of manipulation of the reality of life. By portraying the swan in a feeble and deathly state instead of normally graceful and alive state, Greenaway is able to successfully represent a theme of deformation in life – suffering and grief.


11. Xin (Emma) Ma

Symbolism plays a large role in the structure of the film and its narrative. Describe the role of the Tiger.

The tiger is habitually seen as an icon for untamed power; its depiction as a symbol for confinement is exclusive to the film A Zed and Two Noughts. This interpretation of the animal is mirrored in the frustration of the brothers as their come to terms with the deaths of their wives. Venus de Milo debates whether zebras are “white animals with black stripes, or black animals with white stripes,” while there is no such distinction with tigers, which are indubitably orange animals which “carry their own bars.”

In the opening credits, a tiger walks back and forth in a cage, frustrated with her cramped quarters. A parallel mental agitation is witnessed in Oswald as he walks back and forth in his bedroom in the confinement of his grief, in the company of a scatter of stuffed animals and figurines of tigers.

The billboard before which the fatal accident occurs holds an Esso advertisement, which holds the slogan “put a tiger in your tank.” This further emphasizes the process of harnessing a naturally wild energy to industrial productivity. The pictured animal is caught in a half leap, and is by far the most spirited depiction of the animal in the movie, but it is covered by white paper soon after the car crash, during the televised report of the incident, thus veiling and taming the exuberant spirit of the tiger.
Beta holds and strokes a stuffed tiger toy in the alligator pond, which she hands to her mother as she leaves. A certain irony is found in the harmless interaction between a child, the purest form of innocence in this film, with a representation of the ferocious animal.

Despite the number of creatures the Deuce brothers free from their confinements, as in the case of the flamingoes and rhinoceros, the tiger is never so lucky, nor is its decay studied. The stripes on the animal represent the mental bars of grief which binds Oliver and Oswald. Rather than being liberated from their cage, the brothers finally enter the tiger’s cell in acceptance of their mortal fate. The incident of the symmetrical scars is a crucial turning point, where the academic studies of decay moved past a point of reason, and becomes a morbid obsession which leads to the ultimate downfall of the protagonists.



12. Christopher Mosiadz

Symbolism plays a large role in the structure of the film and its narrative. Describe the role of the colour RED vs WHITE as it is used to present or support a manipulation of reality.

The recurrent use of the colours red and white in Peter Greenaway’s A Zed and Two Noughts are deliberately placed throughout the film to structure the narrative. Symbolically, they both denote significant contrasts in meaning, effectively driving the character development and emphasizing the overall themes of the movie.

Some of the contrasts between white/ red, respectively, that are evident throughout the film include: purity/ impurity, good/ bad, right/ wrong, faithful/ unfaithful, neutral/ passionate, innocence/ guilt, life/ death. While white is generally used to portray the pure and innocent side of a character, red, on the other hand, conveys an opposition to the norm, temptation towards evil, and ultimately… death.

Throughout the film, Alba Bewick, the sole survivor of the accident, is consistently portrayed wearing white in the hospital bed, signifying her good intentions. This emphasizes the fact that she was not the cause of the accident, and, like everyone around her, she is suffering the consequences of these unfortunate events.

It is interesting to note that there are two red chairs at each of her bedsides, representing the loss of her two close friends. Both Oswald and Oliver begin to occupy them more and more throughout the film, subtly foreshadowing their own destiny as they struggle to deal with the death of their own wives.

The only instances in which we see Alba in a red dress is when she is in her new apartment that the Deuce brothers had found for her and she invites them to bed. This is a significant manipulation of reality within the context of the film because it changes our perception of the characters. We become so accustomed to seeing Alba in a white dress that the sudden change to red allows us to witness another side of her that she has been holding within, altering her significant role in the film.



13. Tyler Murray

Speak about the role of Beta (the young daughter) in the film. How does the development of her character feed into a feeling of a repositioning of reality in the film? Compare Beta to the son and daughter in Equilibrium?



14. Brian Muthaliff

This film is laced with symmetry. Speak to the symmetry in the architectural settings of the film and its relationship to the plot. How do these two work together to give us an altered view of reality?

The Symmetry in the architectural settings of the film act as visual cues that speak to the larger intentions of symmetry in the plot of the film, there are of course many physical instances where symmetry manifests itself, Alba’s decision to amputate her leg, the birth of her two children and later in her decision to find a legless man with whom she can start a family and complete the symmetry, but beyond its physical manifestation, the plot unfolds symmetry as well - The movie starts with the death of two women and ends with that of their husbands. The wives are seated in the backseat of Alba's car, while both men die naked, lying next to each other on a wooden board.

The composition of symmetry in conjunction with the symmetry in the architectural settings is a continual representation of the beginning and the end, life and death, black and white.  It is an altered view of reality that is only realized in the films totality. Darwin's thesis (which appears in the BBC documentaries that the Deuces watch) favours the evolution of death over the evolution of life, but the architectural symmetry that is evident in the film never attempts to prefer one side over the other, half the scene is never darker in contrast to its other, and so the architectural symmetry remains to be the plateau for with the characters can choose.


15. Adam Schwartzentruber

This film is laced with symmetry. Speak to the symmetry in the development of the twins in the film and its relationship to the plot. How do these two work together to give us an altered view of reality?

The symmetry is quite instrumental to the development of the twins over the course of the film. As the film progresses the symmetry becomes more apparent in relation to the brothers winding their identity down until they are one and the same visually.

At the onset of the film, symmetry is used to describe the brothers, though they are not in the same place, their locations seem to present symmetry. Shown on one side of a room, the other brother is shown in his apartment on the ‘other’ side of a completely different space. The individual shots may be asymmetrical, but together form a certain symmetry which constructs a strong connection between the characters in the mind of the viewer.

As the plot progresses in the film, the relationship becomes increasingly symmetrical and they begin to occupy the same space more regularly in symmetrical locations furthering the relationship. The progression of symmetry eventually leads to dress, as seen above diminishing each brother’s distinguishing factors over the course of the plot until they reach a similarity which makes them very hard to distinguish from each other.  

This progression and eventual acceptance that the brothers are more or less one character gives us a very altered view of reality. In reality, even identical twins have different actions and reactions and are not in the same place all the time. The symmetry of the film creates a feeling homogeneity of both brother characters which is not felt in real life. The slow progression off this feeling, being built up over the course of the plot, allows us to settle into accepting it as a true action. Again this idea of the suspension of disbelief of the audience supports the progressive similarity between the brothers through symmetry.

The viewer may not have accepted the brothers actions in the final scene had this progression not occurred, and would have related their actions to the oddity of their unified being. Instead the result is that the viewer relates their actions to the characters which we know to be of two separate identities with the same goal. This creates an obvious difference in the perspective of the viewer, and seems to be supported by the plots progression symmetry, which builds what one could call progressive evidence for acceptance.


16. Sam Sutherland

Speak to the almost symmetrical nature in the use of opposites in the film: black and white, life and death, birth and decay. How does this work to give us an altered view of reality?



17. Joon Yang

Compare the presentation of the passage of time in this film to some of the other "time" based films from the term. What sort of devices are used to tell time? How does the use of these devices manipulate our perceptions of the film?

Zoo and Shining have similar way to convey passage of time by providing an image that indicates a certain time has passed. Other than such indications, time elapses between scenes in no particular pattern. In Zoo, the passage of time is indicated by the footage of decaying animal. These footages are sometimes shown only to the viewer, and sometimes it is played to characters in the film. Because the decaying process is done by main characters in the film, it indicates that it is actually done in the plot of the movie, therefore the actual length of time passed in the film. The decaying animals imply that a significant time has passed, at least days. By putting these footage in between scenes, the viewer understands that the time it took the decaying process to take place, is approximately how long the gap is between the scenes before and after. However these footages are not significant in its literal estimated length of time taken to decay the animals, but has significance in that certain ambiguous time has passed. This can be said because different animals have been shown in the footages, and the decaying process seems take different length of time. Some obviously took longer than others, however these different periods of time does not seem to be directly relevant with the length of gap between the preceding/following scenes. The length gap between scene without the footages of decaying animals, however, seem to be shorter. Such scenes jump to a relatively near future.

This is similar to the strategy used in Shining. It shows text screens in between scenes to tell how much time has elapsed. The difference from Zoo is that in Shining, exact time is indicated by text screens. For example, it tells you specific time length such as ‘a month later’, ‘Tuesday’, and ‘4pm’. The length gradually decreases, while suspense increases. Another similarity is that in both Shining Zoo, the elapsed time between scenes without these time images are relatively shorter.

Paris Je Taime also shows similarities with Zoo, in that there are significant moments of time elapse. It is shown by obvious changes in characters and place. When a new scene is introduced with small texts indicating where the story is taking place, change in time is also implied. However the unique character of this film is revealed in the end, where all stories occur at the same time, and place. The viewer is left wondering whether each stories really happened in the order they are introduced, or if they actually happened at the same time. Each story presents a series of events, and the ending scene presents the results of all of these events. The length of gap between the time each event took place, and the time when results are presented at the end, remains mysterious.


18. Ryan Yeung

Compare the nature of the “violence” in The Shining, Equilibrium, The Cube and A Zed and Two Noughts. How does the nature of the violence presented in ZED give us an altered view of reality in as compared to the other films? ie. is it the same kind of violence. is it different voilence. do you even consider it to be violence?

For A Zed and Two Noughts, violence is the instigator, the catalyst that serves to open the plot. However, unlike the Shining, Equilibrium, the Cube, or even Renaissance, violence is not exactly inherent in the main storyline, meaning, when you think of A Zed and Two Noughts, violence is not prevalent. Equilibrium and Renaissance are primarily action films while the Shining and the Cube are thriller / horror films. These genres tend to have violent connotations. In comparison, A Zed and Two Noughts is a drama film, which may contain violence, but focuses more on character development. It is in analyzing the films at face value, that they are substantially different.

Since violence is minimized especially in comparison to the other films, it becomes a powerful tool in highlighting specific scenes and emotions. There are definitely scenes that are considered violent, for example, when Oliver starts eating the shards of glass from the car crash. In this particular scene, we understand how painful it is for Oliver when he is coping with the death of his wife.

However, the nature of violence presented in ZED is mostly that of implied violence. The car crash is never shown except in its aftermath and in the newspaper clippings. Alba Bewick’s amputations are all but implied, and we only see the results. Even the decay of animals, though explicit, feels much different from the violence and death portrayed in the other movies. In the end, this implied violence (though it may not necessarily be implied, or violent for that matter, but I would still categorize it as such) leaves a very uncomfortable feeling within the viewer. Peter Greenway is able to capture this awkwardness through these implied ideas of death and decay (and hence violence in its loosest term) which lingers throughout the entire movie until the ultimate experiment of decay with the brothers themselves.

The theme of suffering is the main theme of the movie. A Zed and Two Noughts brings this theme to the forefront, distorting it to prominence. This is the sort of “violence” that is in the movie, the idea of emotional pain and abuse that they suffer through.


19. Ashley Wood


Violence in film (the kind that earns the R or X rating in terms of censorship), usually consists of scenes that are either highly sexual in nature or very bloody. I know that I felt very uneasy with the graphic nature of the decay scenes in this film. Do you think this sort of scene would warrant a censorship rating? Why? Why not?

The 1985 film by Peter Greenaway, Zed and Two Naughts illustrates material of mature concepts. Notions of death and psychology are variously dealt with in a blase discourse. The demonstration of these notions requires an open and mature mind which the viewer can often perceive through the use of a censorship rating.

The film while not sanctioned within the realm of mainstream cinemas X and R ratings sill depicts impudence and a suggestive nature requiring a mature mind. The ability to rationalise, understand and place concept within this film requires a depth and understanding of cultural precedent, PG & M ratings. 

This film should not be placed under the traditions of X or R ratings as none of the scenes illustrate what would be typified as sexually explicit, violent or abusive material. However through the suggestive and psychological territories Greenaway begins to push the boundaries as illustrated by the nature of Alba Bewick knowingly sleeping with the dead wives husbands and the conception of twins through these actions.

Specific notions of maturity are required to view this film as it portrays a normality to the abnormality of the film. The film does not begin to illustrate a  barrier or set of rules that these character delve past. Scenes that exemplify these action of the normality are exemplified by the graphic scenes depicting the eating of glass and the interest in decay stemming from the death of the twins' wives.

Two sub character within the film, the young girl of about age 12 and the doctor who deals with the amputation of Alba’s legs feed into the relaxed atmosphere of these unstable psychologies. The doctor particularity in his mannerisms, the sexual nature to his patient Alba and the ethical of the removal of the second leg. The only time within in the whole film we see a barrier is after Alba’s second leg is removed and Alba rejects the advances of the doctor. 
These suggestive territories and the scenarios within the film bring a real sense of reality to this abstracted piece. While not typically requiring an X or R rating, the psychology of the film definably requires desecration as to and the preparation of knowing that the material contained in this particular film requires a mind open and mature.


20. Giovanni Comi

Does the nature of the architectural setting this film (thinking of Alba’s apartment and the more precious spaces in the film) balance the nature of the decay sequences in a way that makes their place in the film more acceptable than had they been contained in a grittier series of spaces? Relate this discussion to the manipulation of reality.

A Zed and two noughts, by Peter Greenway has as the centre of the plot the obsession of two brothers Osvald and Oliver (the two noughts of the title) for the idea of death and especially of decay. After the ironic death of both their wives, they start different experiments on animals,  trying to understand their mortal condition.

Alba and the apartment where she lives play a key role during all the movie.  As she says, talking to Oliver, she is the element in common between the swan and the two wives. Indeed, she belongs to Oliver and Osvald in the same way, she is the “element” that brings them toghether, again. As a matter of fact, the two brothers are former Siamese twins.

Alba's apartement is the only set in the entire movie, almost everytime, completely white and full of light. It's a symmetrical set in all the elements (the first time we look at that, Osvald and Oliver are sat on both sides of the bed placed in the centre of the scene). Alba is in the centre of the room, as we said, she is the centre of the story and, the reason of the situation twins are living.

There is a contrast between the symmetrical space of the room and Alba, whose body is no more symmetrical. That's the only room with the bed in the centre, all the other's character room are shown from a side. In my opinion, while Alba is living her life with just one leg, the symmetrical description of the space is made by Greenway using a fixed camera filming the scene in the front. On the other hand, when she lost also the other leg, we can say that her body is symmetric again, and so from now on she is also filmed from just one side. Architecture is always used by the director to balance the lost symmetric world.
Architecture plays an important role along the movie. Alba's apartment is in total contrast not just with the decay sequences but also with the idea itself of decay that obsesses Osvald and Oliver.

In my opinion the apartement always full of light, completely white, where the only other color is red (Alba's hair and two chairs) and where all the furniture is in a symmetric position, shows the beauty of pure  space, not yet infected by decay. As a matter of fact, at the beginning of the story some apples and a toy zebra are shown in their perfection and beauty, in a almost fake condition. Decay hasn't started yet.

A consideration must be done on the use of camera. As a matter of fact, Peter Greenway considers the camera as an ideal way of looking at architecture. Through the movie camera, audience can participate in acrhitecture without being involved in it, and the use of camera creates a series of pictures where all the ideas of the director can be easily shown: born, death, sex, paintings by Vermeer, who is the obsession of one of the characters Van Meegeren. The fixed and not in movement camera is used to shoot animal decay sequences, but it also used to show Alba's life: she's decomposing too, slowly. It takes nine months human being to decay. Nine months to have a baby.

A Zed and two noughts is shot especially in symmetrical frames as we can see in many scenes, using colours to lead the narration of the movie. I maintain that this use of architecture and symmetry manipulates the reality creating a sense of artificial feeling with spaces. It gives to movie a distance from audience.


21. Miklos Csonti


Reflecting on the incorporation of the Darwin Documentaries in the film, how are these used in a way to manipulate reality as it is presented? How does their use compare with the earlier documentary type films that we have viewed?

The Darwin documentaries act as a direct counterbalance to the seemingly violent scenes of the decaying animal corpses.  The documentaries are presented to us as 8 instalments in sequential order moving from the evolution of the simplest organisms (single-cell organisms) to the most complex (humans).  These instalments are scattered throughout the movie in such a progression that they parallel the decaying scenes as they too sequentially increase the biological complexity of their subjects.  This balancing act is carried out throughout the film in order to portray the decaying processes as natural events, even though they may seem violent and destructive.

The presence of the documentaries in the film is clearly intended to be an interactive element that communicates directly to the audience and not only the characters.  In fact, more often than not, the characters are preoccupied with conversation while the TV’s displaying the films are situated at the focal points of the scene.  In one way or another our visual focus is always shifted from the characters providing the dialogue to the documentaries, creating an odd overlap between the two separate events.  This effect allows a perpetual reinforcement of the evolutionary process throughout the film while we’re continually forced to witness the processes of biological decay.

This parallel allows the audience to understand the extreme contrast between the slow development of life and its abrupt end.  As a result, the frustration experienced by the two brothers, due to their attempt at comprehending this absurdity, becomes clear and relatable. Their experiments therefore become more justified and scientific; they become the search for a purpose.

The use of the documentaries in the film compare to earlier documentary type films such as ‘Berlin’ and ‘Paris je t’aime’ in that they are trying explain and make sense of the present situation.  The development of a city is an evolutionary process just as it is for any living entity. Therefore to understand its mechanics one only has to understand the processes involved in its creation.  ‘Berlin’ was very successful at doing this.  However, in order to fully comprehend its very purpose, the city in its entirety has to be recorded in such a way that it is not limited to process and time.  This is a much more ‘romantic’ method and was utilized well by the collage of ‘Paris je t’aime’. Similarly, the Darwin documentaries coupled with the decay sequences are much better at explaining life as a whole, than it ever would be by itself.


22. Joel DiGiacomo

Compare the effect of the soundtrack (largely done by Michael Nyman) for this film with any of the other soundtracks that we have experienced this term. How do these feed into the manipulation in the film?

The Nyman score successfully enhances the film’s themes, but does so with unexpected methods. Greenaway’s film is a painterly societal parody, tremendously referential to classical art and mythology, as well as to itself. His images are still, lush, and precisely composed. He also clearly despises traditional narrative devices. Instead, the film’s structure has more to do with lists than plot or character, and its aesthetic is more important than its purpose. The music of the film is a strange blend of baroque and minimalism, of excess and restraint. It is whimsical, but mechanical. Slightly off-key, but precise. It does not, like most films, attempt to strengthen the emotional connection between audience and character (neither do the rest of the film’s elements). It is often playful when the on-screen situation is dire, eccentric when the action is still, slow and repetitive when the scene is crisp. This is immediately evident in the opening sequence where light and choppy music plays to a car crash that kills two people. This strategy of contrasting music and image allows the audience to make connections in their imaginations and personal interpretations of the film that otherwise wouldn’t be possible, connections that help complete the theme, in this case emphasizing situational duality and the idea that randomness prevails over narrative constructs. The score is used extensively throughout the film, to the point of tedium. This musical omni-presence upholds the story’s fantastical nature, lest the bare action allows the audience to recognize its reality. The orchestra is very thin, and the instruments often sound as if they’re being played by tired machines. This is perhaps to underline the triteness and absurdity of society’s grandiose regard and obsession with lists, categories, and other such organizational endeavours.

The music in other films usually simply describes emotion, or the nature of an event. This is done rather conventionally in Renaissance or Equilibrium, and quite cleverly in The Shining. The latter describes emotions and supernatural events by contrasting image and music. The former two films do not.


23. Alejandro Fernandez

How does the art deco nature of the Rotterdam Zoo (used to film the zoo sequences) feed into the nature of the film? How might the film be different had Greenaway not been able to use this zoo (given that it was in fact designed by a single architect in the early 1900s so has a uniform architectural character)? How does this use of actual location shooting alter or manipulate or support the reality in the film?

The Art Deco architecture in the Rotterdam Zoo provides Greenway a backdrop that supports his interest in symmetry, tableau compositions, and eccentric imagery.

Since the original zoo, founded in 1857, was bombed during World War II, it was re-designed in 1940 by the Dutch architect Sybold van Ravesteyn .5  The commission provided the architect the opportunity to apply contemporary architectural ideas, which at the time was called ‘New Functionalism’.  Ravesteyn strays from the contemporary and blends in new elements.  “In the buildings of Sybold van Ravesteyn, for example, we see a desire to incorporate playful, even vulgar forms.”6   Originally, Ravestyn was a supporter of the "New Building", but more and more he began experimenting with baroque curls and round shapes.7   In the masterplan, Ravesteyn arranged the zoo along a central axis, creating a symmetrical plan.8

The Zoo has a uniform architectural character that would have been impossible if various architects designed it.  The consistent architectural style supports the bizarre reality that Greenway has painted with this film.  Since Greenway was very deliberate with his cinematography, any other zoo would have manipulated the reality that he has created.  I also think that Greenway was simply drawn to the aesthetic of the film.  Thus, the unique architectural style of this modern Dutch architect is well suited to the director’s vision.

In 2001, the zoo was expanded and is now almost twice as large.  In April 2004, the whole zoo was declared a national monument.9  

6 A hundred years of Dutch architecture 1901-2000: trends, highlights
By Umberto Barbieri, Leen Duin, Jaap de Jong: 67



24. Tania Fuizie

Greenaway says that one of the major themes of the film (given that it originated in the early 1980s) was as an environmental commentary the responded to his keen interest in natural history and Darwin. An examination of the world as a zoo. Inferences that there were issues with stability of the same and the position of the human species in the world zoo. Do you think this message is still evident when viewing the film in 2008? Why? Why not?

The structure and graphic of the movie “A Zed and Two Noughts” is noticeably different and unique among the movies made at that period. It has undoubtedly attracted a lot of criticism.  Instead of being motivated by the characters and plots, this movie has adopted the organizational systems and lists such as the alphabet, numbers, colors, symmetry and nature (animals, zoo, and humans). Greenaway himself, states that one of the inspirations for this movie has been the Darwin’s evolutionary stages of natural selection and with no doubt his effort to have the references to the natural history are evident in his movie.
Regardless of all these, I don’t think that the message would still be clear today as the way it might have been 30 years ago. The first thing that comes to mind when talked about Darwin is the evolution and transformation of species into each other, it’s about life. By watching the movie, without reading the many reviews and relating them to what I saw, I myself couldn’t guess that Greenaway was inspired by the Darwin’s theory.

What is most visible in this film is Death and decay. It begins with the death of two women and ends by death of the twins and contains several scenes of decaying animal corpse, even the texts in newspapers” the architect dies”. Although the film’s main focus is not about death and decay, but several scenes and events related to that alters the general atmosphere of the movie. The main impression that comes from the movie is more like a sad story, manipulated life form in the mind of two zoologists that have lost hope and are eager for anything related to death.



25. John Lee



Greenaway admits to a decision in conjunction with his cinematographer to use all 26 types of set lighting in the film. This he said was he was self conscious about film as a language. Do you think this particular instance assists in manipulatiing the realities in the film?

In A Zed And Two Noughts, Peter Greenaway and his cinematographer, Sacha Vierny, effectively replace narrative with imagery in telling the story of the Deuce brothers and their struggle to cope with the death of their wives. It becomes clear that, rather than a traditional narrative with language and dialogue, Greenaway is using the language of film.

The emphasis on imagery is clear in the way the shots are framed; they are very rational, with simple perspective, and are usually fairly long, creating a sort of still-life. Indeed, the orthographic projection of his scenes seems to form an interesting wordplay with orthography, the study of how letters combine to represent sounds and form words.
zedzedzrdCritical to the composition of Greenaway and Vierny’s “still-life” scenes is lighting. Paying homage to Johannes Vermeer4 , the lighting in A Zed And Two Noughts is similarly dramatic, highly directional (with the light often coming from the left, as with Vermeer—see above centre and above right), and ‘photographic’—the lighting is so powerful and moving that it looks unlike something the naked eye could perceive. Indeed, Vermeer was suspected to have used a camera obscura in order to achieve the light quality in his paintings; ultimately, Vermeer works and scenes in A Zed And Two Noughts share a hyper-real quality, in which the scene appears more “real” than real life itself. The dramatic lighting of the scene in question epitomizes the use of light to manipulate realities in the film. Combined with the spatial order of an orthographic projection (which seems to provide a perfect ‘order’ even to the messy disarray on the left of the scene), the contrast between the soft light entering from the left, the eerie glow of the static on the television set, the bizarre fluorescent tube standing up to the right, and the harsh lighting entering from the room beyond creative a dreamlike environment, one that transcends an ‘evenly-lit’ reality.

In the end, the use of lighting not only helps scenes transcend reality, but, in a film about death, Greenaway implies that light is critical to life. Here, he is again indebted to Vermeer, who used light to illuminate simple, everyday genre paintings—still lifes—, rather than the ‘transcendental’ religious art typical of his day.

4 The surgeon, Van Meegeren, is obsessed with recreating Vermeer’s works, like The Music Lesson, above right; his name, even, is a reference to the infamous forger of Vermeer works—who successfully convinced art historians that there were more than 26 authenticated Vermeers.

26. Raja Moussaoui

The cinematographer on this film was Sacha Vierny. This was the first time that Greenaway had used him (not for his previous first film, A Draughtsman’s Contract). Vierny had worked with Alain Resnais before this. (He did the work on Night and Fog and Hiroshima Mon Amour as well as Prospero’s Books.) He had obvious influence in the creation of this film. How might this contrast with the nature of filming that Kubrick employed, using The Shining as the point of reference, given that he did a significant portion of his own camera work and made strong use of steadi-cam tracking type shots? How does this change the presentation of reality in the film?

The film Zen and Two Noughts is a film with many symbolic references, and specifically has many since which are composed to resemble or recreate Vermeer paintings. The film was shot as a series of framed images, with the focus being on the composition, not the action of each of the scenes. Often the movement of the characters in the scenes was very slight, what mattered more than the action in the movie was the viewer’s interpretation of the symbols present in the film’s scenes. Similar to how a painting is meant to be viewed, many scenes were shot in a way that there was a significant portion of time dedicated to allowing the viewer to observe, reflect and interpret meaning. In her book, ‘The Films of Peter Greenway’ Amy Lawrence says ‘’…it is the mystery at the heart of Vermeer, and the way that mystery functions in relation to narrative, that unites artist and filmmaker’’ and also ‘’Vermeer’s enigmatic images invite questions, and the link between asking questions and telling a story is never clearer in Greenaway than when paintings take over and become the scene.’’1 As viewers, are detached from the film. We are set apart from it as interpreters, or as scientists observing these often strange behaviors of complicated and tormented humans.

In order to achieve this painterly affect, Greenaway collaborated with cinematographer Sacha Vierny. Vierny was known for this painterly taste for darkness and texture, wide ranges of contrasts between scenes, and courage in working in low light sources 2. Greenaway and Vierny were said to share a fascination with saturated colours and low light 3, effects necessary to achieve the qualities of Vermeer’s paintings.

In contrast, a movie like The Shining by Stanley Kuprick is about action and emotion. As viewers we become emotionally involved with the characters. While watching we feel emotionally invested in their well being and witness (in the case of the father) the progression of their spiral into madness. The steady cam technique employed by the director creates since which are dynamic, drawing the viewer into the action, involving us in the film. Through this technique we are made to   feel the anxiety, fear and madness of the characters.

1 Lawernce, A. ‘The Films of Peter Greenaway. Cambridge University Press,


27. Holly Young

How would you transform this film in to a play? What would be the gains and losses in the transition?

After watching Greenaway’s Zed and Two Noughts, I believe the majority film could be successfully transformed into a play, although a few key elements would be lost in the transition.

zedPeter Greenaway, whose background is that of an artist, was inspired by Dutch Baroque painting of the 17th century when setting up the scenes of Zed.  This idea is consistent with the characteristics of live theatre, as little movement is used in the camera work for said scenes, and, much like a painting, a play is viewed always at the same angle for those in the audience.  Movement in the play, as in the movie, would still come across well (especially when set against balanced or symmetrical scenes) through stage blocking.  Furthermore, the saturated colours used in the film would transfer successfully to theatre, where bright colours are frequently used in order to maintain impact farther back into the audience.  Another similarity between this film and traditional live theatre is the careful lighting used to articulate depth within a scene.  The ‘fantastical’ musical score could be translated much as is, as a foil to the action of the narrative used to portray duality within the storyline and evoke an uncanny atmosphere, distancing you from forming feelings for the characters (keeping them at arms length, much like within a scientific experiment).  Finally, the overdramatic existence of the film’s ensemble of characters reads surrealistically - like the exaggerated expressions and movements used in theatre in order to translate to those in the back of the theatre - establishes a deeper meaning for the piece, drawing attention to the symbolism of the piece (that of beginning and end, life and death).

zed Yet despite these many parallels between the director’s vision for Zed and the characteristics of live plays, a few of the movie’s more poignant tactics would lost in the transformation from film to theatre.  For instance, the scenes showcasing the progressive decay of plant and animal matter would not be able to be replicated on stage without also incorporating film, as the process takes much time.  This would be a great loss, as these shots tend to be the most effective at portraying the narrative motifs of death, decay, and human and animal mortality.  The number of sets would also be limited in live theatre, the location shots would be lost, and it is unlikely that the same number of live animals could be incorporated.  The last major shortfall of turning this film into a play would be the removal of the zoomed-in camera work, as the close-ups incorporated throughout the film supported the symbols throughout.  Snails would be invisible on stage, but they were highlighted in the movie as a reminder of our eventual return to the primordial ooze.  Also, the constant presence of either zoo animals or their decorative toy counterparts (which may be lost in the theatrical sets) emphasize that humans are still animals, susceptible to animal instincts and fragile nature.


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