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CLASSICS: The Fountain (2006) ****

October 17, 2010

(originally written on June 7, 2007)

written by: Darren Aronofsky & Ari Handel

produced by: Arnon Milchan, Ian Smith & Eric Watson

directed by: Darren Aronofsky

rated PG-13 (for some intense sequences of violent action, some sensuality and language)
96 min.
U.S. release date: November 22, 2006
DVD/Bluray release date: May 15, 2007

 
I wanted to see this film last fall and never got around to it because I was still getting used to the birth of our child. The addition to a new life in my world only heightened the powerful themes of love and death the film has. I had been interested in this film since Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett were attached back in 2002 and then when Pitt backed out, so did production. A cast was solidified in 2005 and production began once again. By the time the intriguing trailer came out about a year ago, anticipation was added to my interest. I knew I would be seeing something unique, something I could get lost in. Sure enough, Aronofsky’s latest offers another angle on the whole “what if you could live forever”, fountain of youth subject. It’s a beautifully sad melodrama with a visual feast for the senses that completely absorbed me even though I didn’t always know what was going on.

Granted, I usually like to know what it is I’m watching but sometimes a movie can be so captivating that nothing about it makes you stop and wonder what’s happening. Right from the start, I was just fine being lost in this movie, regardless of whether I not I knew what to make of it. It may bother some to read this but: I was utterly absorbed in watching it, yet when it was over I had no idea what had happened. I’ve been confused by plenty of plotholes or convoluted stories in movies before but that wasn’t the case here, I just didn’t think about it.  I was impressed enough with the visuals and the approach to the storytelling, nitpicking was the least of my concern. If a movie merits it, there’s freedom in just letting go and letting the movie unfold before you.

Hugh Jackman in Warner Bros. Pictures' The Fountain

I can describe the story as science fiction/fantasy that follows three interwoven narratives taking place in the age of conquistadors (circa Spanish Inquisition) , the present, and the far future.That would be true but it is also just a vague summary.
Thomas (Hugh Jackman) is a research oncologist trying to find a cure for his ill love, Isabel (Rachel Weisz), or Izzie, as he calls her.  He is a man who believes that death is a disease and he has become obsessed in finding a cure. I believe the present-day is the same person, miraculously un-aged, as the Thomas of hundreds of years from now, but I could not prove it. He doesn’t seem to be the same Thomas as the Inquisition Thomas, nor is it the same Isabel … but I’m not totally sold on that either.

Throughout each of the three time periods the two characters exist as does their love, as well as Thomas’ obsession. The story explores the themes of love and mortality while drawing influences from Mayan mythology all and using transitional scenes of light and shapes.

Hugh Jackman in Warner Bros. Pictures' The Fountain

The storyline from the past ties in with a book ill Izzie is writing entitled, “The Fountain”, while Thomas is hard at work in his lab. His medical assistants Antonio (Sean Patrick Thomas), Manny (Ethan Suplee) and Betty (Donna Murphy)  know that Thomas’ frenzied research is quite personal for him as they attempt to reverse brain tumors in monkeys. His work is overseen by his and Izzie’s friend, Dr. Lillian Guzetti (Ellen Burstyn) who tries to help him see that his obsession is consuming time he could be spending with Izzie.

In the past and in her story, Tomas the conquistador works for Queen Isabella of Spain and is searching for the mythical Tree of Life or the Fountain of Youth with his right hand man, Captain Ariel (Cliff Curtis). He is attacked by Mayans in one of their holy pyramids. In the future, he is bald and sitting by a tree that floats through space in a bubble. Tom meditates and practices tai chi, but he is haunted by visions of Izzie. He focuses on reaching a nebula above and tells the tree that it will be reborn.

These simultaneous stories cut from one to the other, and while I could probably describe them in a less nonsensical fashion than I have just done, that might defeat the purpose. The enjoyment of the movie is in being caught up in its single-minded devotion to its own vision, not in completely understanding what that vision is.


Hugh Jackman in Warner Bros. Pictures' The Fountain
This is the first movie by Aronofsky that I’ve seen. I own his previous two films, “Pi” and “Requiem for a Dream” but haven’t had a chance to see them yet. Both of those films have gained cult status, praise from critics, awards and several Top 10 lists. “The Fountain” is his first movie since 2000 and it’s taken him that long to get this project together. The special effects make it blockbuster expensive, but it’s certainly not the kind of movie that brings in blockbuster crowds. It features two actors playing multiple characters (or maybe the same character) in three different time periods, with each story overlapping the other two in strange ways. You can see why studios weren’t too eager to fund it let alone understand how to market it.

Aronofsky is known for putting together bizarre, entrancing images, beautifully filmed by cinematographer Matthew Libatique and scored by composer Clint Mansell (both men are his regulars.) He usually shoots scenes either head-on or exactly in profile, with few three-quarter shots or other jaunty angles. The head-on shots, in particular, give the film an otherworldly feel simply because direct shots is something you often don’t see. Even if you knew nothing else about the film, you’d know it was unusual for that reason alone.
Considering all that, this film will probably not be appreciated as it should. It may come across as pretentious or artsy but I see it as beautiful in both its story and visuals. Once in a while, a film will come around and have that effect on a viewer, if allowed.

The material and dialogue are somewhat melodramatic and the scenes with Thomas and Izzie often may not feel like the way people naturally talk. It takes actors who are both absorbing and absorbing actors to make that acceptable and captivating. Jackman and Weinz deliver some great work here and any reservations I may have had disappeared as I connected to feelings of obsession, acceptance and loss.

Although I like Brad Pitt’‘s acting, I can’t see him being as convincing as Jackman is here. I enjoyed the variety in the supporting cast as well. Cliff Curtis is a favorite of mine, and of course, Ellen Burstyn is always amazing. Of course, seeing Ethan Suplee was sort of jarring due to his popularity in “My Name is Earl”, but I knew him from the excellent “American History X” anyway.

The story is more than just a rumination on life and death, but also on the vital role both play on the other. The film has an intricate plot, and even if I understood all the details, it would be completely beside the point. The point is how the viewing experience makes you feel and think. A friend of mine recently saw this around the same time I did and he stated that he felt the movie was sad , but he loved it. Sounds like he got it. I see it as a movie that is designed to envelop you in its emotions rather than tell you a story. It’s certainly worth repeated viewings and is the kind of quiet movie that will most likely be appreciated more over time, I’ll consider it a masterpiece.

Warner Bros. Pictures' The Fountain

 

 

  

CLASSICS is a Keeping It Reel feature that sheds light on past and present films which are considering “classics” by Paul and David. Some are award-winners while others could be seldom seen films that demand your attention.

 

9 Comments leave one →
  1. October 20, 2010 1:47 am

    Like you I had no idea what this film was about on my first viewing. Perhaps it was because it was not only visually stunning but also emotionally stunning… I left the theatre feeling quite numb.

    Since my first viewing of this film I have seen this film on two more occasions and have started to piece together what I think the director is trying to tell us; true love lasts forever.

    It is a truly stunning and emotional film, but one that I highly recommend being watched in a darkened room with no distractions!

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