No one will ever compare Darren Aronofsky’s work to the best of Uwe Boll’s filmography. His films are puzzles: sometimes enlightening, sometimes captivating, and occasionally a little infuriating. In other words, he’s a true artist, and with his immortal opus The Fountain, I think he stumbles a bit because what he’s trying to say seems to get lost in the multitude of narrative lines he’s laying down.
Starting with a lone conquistador fighting the Mayan hordes, the story jumps a thousand years to a spaceman travelling through space, literally in a bubble, with a half-dead tree. Then it rewinds to the present, where a medical researcher is trying to find a way to treat his wife’s terminal brain cancer. The conquistador, the spaceman and the doctor are all played by Hugh Jackman, and Rachel Weisz plays the object of their affection: the queen of Spain in the 16th century and the doctor’s sick wife in the present, who continues to haunt the spaceman. The mythical Tree of Life also links the three-time periods. The Conquistador seeks it on behalf of the Queen, the Doctor believes the sap can heal, and the spaceman takes it in his bubble to a mist where it will be reborn.
Believe it or not, all of this is crammed into about 100 minutes, and that doesn’t even touch on the avalanche of other stuff going on. I like a movie full of ideas, they’re infinitely more satisfying than scripts that are one-trick ponies, like anything based on a Saturday Night Live sketch. But ultimately, the piles do not come together as Aronofsky pontificates on his central message: the search for immortality is futile because death itself can be an act of immortality, like the South American fable about creation that the movie mentions.
“The Fountain is great to look at and I think its heart is in the right place, but it failed to answer the big questions it was positioned to attack.”
In The Fountain‘s favour, it is immaculate in its look and construction; cinematographer Matthew Libatique and production designer James Chinlund do a tremendous job of realizing Aronofsky’s vision. The scenes in 16th-century South America have this wonderfully dark effect that reminds the viewer that this is the New World. The space scenes in the future are bathed in white and gold, adding to the sense of sterility and loneliness. The present-day scenes are stark, except for the brilliant whites used to highlight the snow-covered landscape; you can literally feel the mood of the characters through the lighting.
Jackman and Weisz do an effective job, but I think they get a little lost in all the philosophical and theological back and forth. Normally I could forgive this if what I was watching was a little clearer. Am I too stupid to understand what’s being said? I don’t think so, but for a movie that’s supposed to be hip-deep in meditations on the essential nature of existence, I found it a little shallow. The Fountain is great to look at, and I think its heart is in the right place, but it failed to answer the big questions it was positioned to attack.