‘Club Zero’ Is Without Much Purpose
Club Zero opens at a privileged, elite school. The students wear unisex uniforms, some board at the school while others live with their wealthy parents. It is at this school that we meet the new teacher, Miss Novak. Brought in by the parents’ board, Miss Novak is a nutritionist… sort of. It doesn’t take long for her methods to reveal themselves after she gathers her students. Her students range from those trying to be more health conscious to those concerned about our impact on the environment to those simply trying to get more credit for their classes.
What starts as an experiment in “conscious eating” (a bogus method of eating that requires the person eating to consider every single bite thoughtfully) turns into more drastic measures that encourage eating disorders and starvation. When Miss Novak encourages a cult-like mentality, her students, already vulnerable, are quick to be indoctrinated. The students become more and more dedicated to the cause, believing that they simply do not need to eat anymore, but we’re never really given a solid purpose to Miss Novak’s teachings.
Jessica Hausner Struggles to Reach a Conclusion With a Message
Club Zero moves at a grueling pace at times, with little that shocks or surprises the audience narratively. One scene, which involves one of the students throwing up and then eating her own vomit again, is disgusting and is meant to be, but Hausner does little else to offer something unpredictable in the film.
As the story continues on, the students become more and more dedicated to Miss Novak, while their parents begin to feel real concern. Only one of the parents seems to actually care initially, but after seeing their children starve themselves, concern finally arises. The tone of the film borders on satirical, though it doesn’t fully commit. Thankfully, Wasikowska fully leans into the weird and determined Miss Novak. Her performance bolsters the film and adds a backbone despite everything else.
It might surprise some to know that what happens in Club Zero, at least when it comes to people willingly starving themselves, is a practice that some even pay for. Certain wellness retreats offer people the chance to starve themselves for a hefty price. While there’s no mention of these real-life events, it feels like the satirical angle of the film would have benefited from more explicit comparisons. In the end, Hausner’s vision for Club Zero is clear. It has a clear aesthetic vision but what becomes muddled is the actual story that ends up at a finale that simply fizzles out.
Club Zero had its world premiere at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival.