Sunday, September 23, 2007

Movie Review: The Fountain

Like probably everyone who's seen The Fountain, I was looking forward to the next film by Darren Aronofsky the creator of two of the most intense films I've ever seen, Pi and Requiem for a Dream. I knew the reviews were mixed and expected an ambitious but incoherent work. Oddly I found it mostly understandable and wish it had tried to be more.

The film tells three stories in three time periods. The earliest about Tomas, a Spanish conquistador searching for the fountain of youth in the Mayan empire for Queen Isabel. Another is set in present day about Dr. Tom Creo a drug researcher struggling to find a cure for his dying wife Izzi. The last is set in a distant future as a snowglobe-like ship with a tree and a man inside travels through space toward a nebula. The man in all three stories is played by Hugh Jackman. Rachel Weisz plays Queen Isabel and Izzi.

The obvious core of the film is the present story. While Tom is unwilling to accept the thought of losing her, she's fascinated by Mayan creation myths about a father figure dying and the universe growing as a tree from his body. One night Tom and Izzi look through a telescope at a nebula which she describes as a dying star that gives birth to other stars. Izzi is writing a manuscript called The Fountain about a Spanish conquistador searching for the fountain of youth in the Mayan empire. She's written all but the last chapter and asks Tom to finish it. So we know how two of the stories relate, the question is how the future one connects to the others.

The hair on nape of Izzi's neck appears on the tree. Queen Isabel's dress in the past looks like roots and limbs. The tree in the ship is obviously Izzi. Tom the spaceman has the same ring tattoo and pen as Dr. Tom. He also has memories of both Izzi and Isabel or are those just transitions? Is this the future of a Dr. Tom who has found a way to cure or put off death and is bringing the tree he planted on Izzi's grave to the nebula they looked at? Or is it the last chapter of the The Fountain he's written for Izzi. It's probably the latter, but I don't think it really matters. The plot isn't the emphasis but rather the thematic exploration of the idea of rebirth; in other words, it's a work of art.

The title is a reference to the fountain of youth. The film makes explicit references to the tree of life and is about the circle of life where life is reborn from death. Izzi loves the quote "death is the road to awe" and incorporates it in her story. We don't see Izzi arrive at this acceptance but we can contrast it with Tom's attitude. In the final scenes he seems to accept the notion though it's not clear we've witnessed the transition.

There are thematic connections between the time periods. Triangles in the past, rectangles in the present and circles in the future. There are similar travel shots in each of the time periods involving a horse, a car and a spaceship. Star fields appear in each of the time periods as do rings. Set designs are dominated with tunnels and lead from dark to light.

If you accept it as a work of art the next step to realize the main characters are creating a work of art in the form of a story. The scenes often blend together, but Izzi telling Tom to "finish it" also says " together we will live forever". Spaceman Tom at the end says "All these years, all these memories, there was you. You pull me through time." By creating things like art we can live forever. Is this what Aronofsky is trying to say and do? If so I think he achieved immortality better with his previous two films.

You can download a director's commentary that Warner Brothers wouldn't put on the DVD. He deliberately doesn't discuss the main themes, leaving it for the viewer to interpret. The sense I got was that the film was inspired by independent ideas rather than being being aspects of a whole. He liked Mayan culture and wanted a warrior aspect. He wanted to do a space story that looked unlike things done before, no trucks in space.

I don't expect to live forever as the result of this review or even this blog; even if I suggest that life springs from previous things. And yes, I do believe that all the elements heavier than iron found on earth (and everywhere else) came from previous supernovas.

1 comment:

Joey said...


I also enjoyed 'The Fountain', mainly because I found it thought-provoking. I thought the the director's triumph was the fact that whether you believe in a spiritual re-birth, or a basic essential 'chemical-process-recycling', somehow life/energy continues.

I remember a rudimentary, but mind-opening statement from of chemistry professor, reminding me that the breath I just took likely contained oxygen molecules once inhaled by Benjamin Franklin, Aristotle, and perhaps expelled by the Giant Sequoias.

As any physicist will tell you- energy is never lost, only transferred...