No one will ever compare the works of Darren Aronofsky with the very best of the Uwe Boll filmography. His movies are guessing games: sometimes insightful, sometimes captivating, and occasionally a little infuriating. In other words, he’s a true artist and with his immortality opus The Fountain, I think he stumbles a bit because I what he’s trying to say seems to get lost in the multitude of narrative linears he’s laying down.
Starting with a lone conquistador fighting against the Mayan hordes, the story jumps a thousand years to a space man traveling through space, literally in a bubble, with a half dead tree. We then rewind to the present where a medical researcher is trying to find a way to treat his wife’s terminal brain cancer. The conquistador, the space man, 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 time who further haunts the space man. The three time periods are also connected through the mythical Tree of Life. The conquistador searches for it on behalf of the Queen, the doctor believes the sap can heal, and the space man is taking it in his bubble to a nebula where it will be reborn.
Believe it or not, this all crammed into about 100 minutes and that’s not even touching on an avalanche of other goings 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 come to not as Aronofsky pontificates his central message: the search for immortality is futile because death itself can be an act of immortality, like the South America fable about creation that the film mentions.
Working in The Fountain’s favour is that it is immaculate in its look and construction; cinematographer Matthew Libatique and production designer James Chinlund do tremendous work in achieving Aronofsky’s vision. The scenes in 16th-century South America have this wonderfully dark effect to them that reminds the viewer that this is the New World. The space scenes in the future are bathed in whites and golds, contributing to a feeling of sterility and loneliness. The scenes in modern day are stark with the exception of the brilliant whites used to emphasize the snow-covered grounds; you can literally feel the characters’ mood through the lighting.
Jackman and Weisz do an effective job, but I think they get lost a little amongst all the philosophical and theological back and forth. Normally I could forgive this if what I was watching were a little clearer. Am I too stupid to get 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.