the fountain (2006)
Where do I start? I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I sat down in an empty theater on this sunday morning. I had come to see Darren Aronofsky's new film, The Fountain. Aronofsky, as you may know, is the relatively new director behind the indie hits Pi and Requiem for a Dream; The latter of which is endlessly adored by hipster teenagers and college kids everywhere as one of the greatest movies ever made. I, myself, am not a fan, as a matter of fact I think Requiem for a Dream pretty much sucks. Pi was decent, but all in all a muddled bit of pretentious ideas from a first-time director trying his best not to let it show. From all the buzz around this new film, I was almost certain it would be more of the same. IMDb stated its premise as "spanning over one thousand years and three parallel stories, it is a tale of love, death, spirituality and the fragility of our existence in the world." Well, what the hell does that mean? It sounded like another half-baked idea designed to make the teen movie junkies go nuts and leave the rest of to roll our eyes. Aronofsky met with one set-back after another to try and get it made, taking a long five years in the process; eventually, I figured he just might not ever finish it. But, somehow or other, he did. Now, are you ready for the biggest shocker of all? I loved it. The film was fantastic. I actually liked an Aronofsky movie, and what's more, it's the best film I've seen all year. Got your interest piqued? Good, join me now as I discuss this fascinating film.
What baffles me most about this movie is that everything else around it screams "crappy movie" at the top of its lungs. The trailers were lackluster, the production was marred by one setback after another (no joke, they've been having indepth pre-release articles about it in magazines for about 3 years now), the critics are divided and mostly seem to hate it, audiences are avoiding it like the plague and apparently it was booed at its premier. But WHY? It's simply senseless to me that in age where theater attendance is dropping steadily, and where regular joes and critics alike are begging for some original ideas with the old "Hollywood has run out of ideas" remark, that this film wouldn't be an answer to their prayers. What's this? A film that defies formula, has the brains to be open for interpretation AND defies genre constraints to give us something far different from films we've seen before? Heaven forbid! Cut Aronofsky some slack, the guy's trying to give us an abstract and thought-provoking film here. The best part about it is, he succeeds on many levels. Science Fiction is a genre that was born out of giant radioactive ants and flying saucers in those crazy '50's classics, those wacky fun flicks like Them!, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, and Forbidden Planet. However, even in those days there were films like The Day the Earth Stood Still and Invasion of the Body Snatchers that tried to rise above the limitations of a popcorn genre and really say something; they became damn fine films in the process. Years later, in that late 1960's and early 70's, visionaries like Stanley Kubrick and Andrei Tarkovsky would push the genre to new heights of respectability with their artistic sci-fi masterpieces 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris. However, with the advent of Star Wars and Star Trek, science fiction suddenly shifted to become associated with thirty year old nerds living in their parents basement learning fictitious alien languages, collecting toys and generally obsessing over the new space adventures. With The Fountain, it feels like Aronofsky is trying to turn back the clock thirty years and see where a genre of respectable, serious science fiction could take us. While he doesn't come close to matching the genius of 2001 or Solaris, he puts in a worthy addition to their cause. This film centers around an ambiguous cast of main characters, with Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz as our anchors. If the film begins to stray, we have these familiar faces to keep us grounded and that's part of what makes the film work, and makes it so straightforward and surprisingly easy to understand. Yes, despite what reviews of the movie seem to think, the movie is neither "muddled" nor "deliberately confusing".
The difference in this film is that there is a perfectly logical, literal and realistic explanation for all that we see, and there is also a very abstract and, if I may say so, far more cinematic way of reading the film as well. Aronofsky let us have this one any way we want it, which most likely bothers people who prefer their movies with one explanation and one explanation only. So many times, films will fear this response and ground their films firmly in a reality, even if it is a reality created by the film. Such as with the recent The Science of Sleep where the quick and simple explanation for everything we saw was "hey, it's a dream!". The film even went out of its way to let us know when we were and weren't in a dream. The Fountain teeters on the edge of supplying us with these simple guidelines, but never really tells us, which is what makes the experience so much more rewarding. Well, or "deliberately confusing" I guess it depends on your perspective. However, it's just not often that film tackle such big questions as this one does with its examination of death. Aronofsky has a firm belief on the subject, which his images eventually relate to us in a way that words never could. The film moves along for the most part with a pretty standard pace and I was feeling, when it came down to it, slightly lukewarm to it as I traversed the first hour or so. The three stories were each interesting, the scenes in the past were sweeping and action packed as Jackman travels through the jungles of South America, fighting the Mayans, to reach the Tree of Life and the Fountain of Youth. These scenes are extremely appealing visually and provide the film with a good base with which to formulate its ideas. The other story revolves around Jackman in the present working as a doctor, trying to find a cure for tumors to save his dying wife. The third, which begins slightly laughably has Jackman travelling the cosmos with an enormous tree. I'll admit it, I had to keep myself from laughing when we're first introduced to a bald Jackman floating around space like a zen master, doing yoga amongst the stars. However, I warmed up to it thanks to the fantastic imagery employed in these segments. Aronofsky, apparently, recognized the uselessness of CGI for these sequences and did not use it at all, but rather matted in film taken of microscopic chemical reactions to form jackman's world of the future. The result is fantastic and looks far better than anything CGI could have ever produced. The film picks up in it third act and knocks this film out of the park, it is here that Aronofsky comes to his real conclusions and takes us along for an incredible ride. This film should really be experienced on the big screen to take in the beauty of the images and get the overall effect form these sequences. The directing is great from Aronofsky and the acting is another bright spot as well. Mostly, though, this film succeeds in taking us on a journey, emotionally and spiritually.
That's all I'm going to say, the rest is up to you, see this movie. I can't think of any reason not to, and do it quick,. With the reception this is getting, it'll be out of theaters and resigned to the TV screen within a matter of weeks. Honestly, I'd look for this to disappear from theaters before Christmas. So, waht are you waiting for, see it now before it's gone. It's a film that takes alot of chances, the biggest one probably being that it doesn't try to be big and impressive. I think, if that's one thing I can say I adored about the film, it's the small and personal story it tells. I honestly expected some sprawling jumble and got a concentrated meditation.