The Fountain (2006)
****1/2 out of 5
I am somewhat of a latecomer to Darren Aronofsky. After seeing the achingly excellent The Wrestler, I eagerly anticipated his follow-up, Black Swan, a film that I have previously enthused about in this blog. In light of my rather belated discovery of this cinematic talent, I decided to go back to pre-The Wrestler and watch The Fountain, a film I had long been intrigued by – a film, that almost ruined Aronofsky’s reputation.
The ambitious project traverses three separate but interlinked tales from three different periods – the 16th Mayan civilisation, modern day 2005 and outer space in the year 2500. It tells the tale(s) of a love story between a man and a woman, played on each occasion by Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz respectively. In the 1500s during the Spanish inquisition, conquistador Tomas (Jackman) is commissioned by Queen Isabella (Weisz) to travel to the New World in order to retrieve the Tree of Life – a discovery that she believes will allow her to fend off the designs a powerful cleric has for her throne. In 2005, Tommy is a neuroscientist obsessed with finding a cure for his wife Izzi’s degenerative brain disease, as her health continues to rapidly decline. 500 years into the future, Tom, in his bubble-like space craft, is travelling towards a golden nebula, accompanied only by a dying tree and visions of 2005’s Izzi. It is inferred that he is travelling to the nebula in order to bring the tree back to life, and thus further, that Izzi is somehow alive within the tree.
Although the concept is extremely complex and on the surface may seem at odds with the obsession and suffering so prevalent in The Wrestler and Black Swan, The Fountain is, in essence, a simple love story that shares these traits. In each narrative strand, Tomas/Tommy/Tom must strive to overcome insurmountable odds in order to save his love, Isabella/Izzi/Izzi – ultimately, through sacrifice of himself.
If there is one word to describe The Fountain it is audacious. At times it lacks focus, and on occasion the flashbacks within flashforwards of previously shown scenes do threaten to melt your brain, but on the whole, there is an aura about the film. Like a cold fountain on a glorious summer’s day, it expels a continuous magical mist of vapour; just enough to cool you down, quench your thirst, without going so far as to soak you to the bone. As the film glides along, it is as if Aronofsky were reversing the big bang. He re-ravels everything, pulling us closer to the core of his story; slowly twisting his mesmeric, cinematic matter back into a tight enough coil that it will fit neatly within the tiny seed from whence it came. At the film’s climax he achieves this – we are at the source from which the fountain springs. And after a brief second of clarity, it all comes bursting out once more in a quite astounding finale. A truly gorgeous, messy and captivating film.