The Fountain

Last week, I finally sat down and watched Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain. I’m not sure if anything I write about it will constitute a spoiler, but if you’re strongly anti-spoiler, you haven’t seen this film, and you are planning to do so, then by all means, stop reading. I know it’s a little weird to be writing about an eight year old film like this, but it was the first time I’ve seen it and I need to unpack some things while I’m trying to work out exactly what it was I saw.

If you’re still with me, then I’m assuming we can talk about The Fountain.

Let me start by saying that I’m not at all sure how “good” this film was. I was thoroughly entertained, it’s obviously stuck in my brain, but there were some maddeningly jarring bits that didn’t seem to work. Mind you, I had the same reaction to Brazil the first couple of times I saw it until I got my head around the ending. It’s entirely possible that it’s not working because I’m not getting it.

That said, the film isn’t nearly as obtuse as some critics make it out to be. Yes, there are three sort-of parallel stories, but I found the way in which they were pieced together enhanced my enjoyment and understanding of the film. Taken out of the context of the film, the nature of the three stories is not at all difficult to understand. It can be a little tricky to follow while you’re watching it, but again, that only enhances your engagement in what’s on the screen.

I saw that Kate Blanchett and Brad Pitt were originally cast as the leads, and I cannot tell you how relieved I am that Rachel Weisz and Hugh Jackman wound up with those roles. Weisz’ enigmatic smile is perfect for a woman who is on the cusp and just waiting for her lover to figure it out for himself.  She was an inspired choice, but then again, so was Jackman. His portrayal of single-minded determination even when he’s going down the wrong road is convincing and heartbreaking at the same time.

So, yeah, we’ve talked about The Fountain, but not about what The Fountain is about. It’s a movie that’s about death, and about how we look at death, and about how grow. That’s a heavy, heavy load for a film and it speaks incredibly well of Aronofsky that he was able to make what amounts to a science fiction film about points of view and make it work. The penultimate sequence feels inspired by 2001 and is every bit as visually overwhelming, but I’m it’s also the part I’m not sure about. However, it resolves to a pitch-perfect ending. I love a proper ending (as opposed to a happy one). The movie ended the way it needed to end, which was beautiful, a little sad, and absolutely perfect.


4 thoughts on “The Fountain

  1. I saw this movie a while back and didn’t quite like it. But your review offers a different perspective. I might just watch it again.Darren Aronofsky is really talented and I don’t mind watching his movies more than once.

    1. To be honest, I’m not even sure if my perspective is “right”, but it just hit me in at just the right angle. If you do watch it again, let me know what you think.

  2. I’m with you on how confusing this movie can be. I believe it was told retrospectively, through the narrative that Jackman’s character wrote in Weisz’s character’s journal, but even still it’s hard for me to understand and organize the temporal progression of the film’s parallel sequences. Just a speculation, but I would say that Jackman’s character – in the futuristic scenes with the healing tree – doesn’t really exist, since he’s only living this out through his additions to his wife’s book. But I thought that the ending was sad in that he had tried so hard to develop the cure and to save her, but was unable, and resorted to living his life in his fantastic memories and post-mortem narratives of her life.

    Maybe Aronofsky should be criticized in his cliché interpretation of the “timelessness of love,” given his unique approach to storytelling?

    1. I think you’re right on the sequence. The “past” story is what Weisz wrote, the “present” story is what is happening, and the “future” story is how he ended her story. That makes the most sense to me.

      It’s an intensely sad story from Jackman’s point of view, but his uncompromising drive is an obstacle to his being able to deal with the reality that she’s dying. His story, the “future” story, is about his having to accept and let go, and while it’s sad, it feels as real as any “spaceman in a bubble with a dying tree” story can feel.

      It’s an interesting approach he took and I’m willing to forgive a few hoary metaphors when they’re used as engagingly as Aronofsky did. Trying to tell a story about growth and death and points of view in a film looks really, really difficult to me.

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