A Zed and Two Noughts

Greenaway, PeterDeacon, BrianDeacon, Eric

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine
  • Date of entry: Dec-31-1997
  • Last revised: Sep-14-2006


Oswald and Oliver Deuce (Brian and Eric Deacon) are brothers, separated conjoined twins, who are both zoologists. Their wives are both killed in a car crash. The driver of the car, Alba Bewick (Andréa Férreol), collides with a swan escaped from the zoo where the brothers work. As a result of the accident, one of Alba's legs is amputated.

The grieving brothers become obsessed with decomposition as evolution's logical complement, and begin exploring, by means of time-lapse photography, the process of decay of life forms of increasing complexity (while they watch, obsessively, the David Attenborough TV series, "Life on Earth"). As their experiments require more animals, they become involved in a shady scheme for procuring animal corpses from the zoo, a process involving a prostitute / teller of erotic tales who is sexually obsessed with black-and-white animals.

Alba, now with one leg, becomes obsessed with symmetry. She takes both Oswald and Oliver as lovers, becomes pregnant, and bears twins. She is persuaded by a Vermeer-obsessed aesthete veterinary surgeon to let him amputate her second leg. She decides to commit suicide and plans to have the twins film what happens to her body after death. When her family prevents them from taking her, Oswald and Oliver instead set up their time-lapse photography equipment and kill themselves, choosing to decompose together.


This is of course not a realist film. Greenaway uses his symmetrical plot to explore relationships between biology and aesthetics, providing several alternative taxonomies for classifying life (Alba's plan is to have enough children to give each the name of a letter of the Greek alphabet; her daughter, Beta, creates her own collection of animals arranged by alphabetical order; the zoo's corpses are arranged by color: the zebra, the black-and-white striped angel fish, the Dalmatian...).

The twins attempt to deal with their loss by situating their dead wives within a biological process: the rotting creatures they film are on a kind of journey, as one twin says, "on their way back to where they came from: ooze." Ooze is the opposite of Zoo (as several mirror image shots of the zoo sign remind us), signifying the return of all creatures to an undifferentiated substance in which the anxieties of classification, distinction, beauty, desire, and of evolution itself, are removed. In this, the film offers an intriguing kind of reassurance.

Primary Source

Skouras Pictures; Fox Lorber