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The Fountain (2006)

August 11, 2010

9/10 Preventable Deaths

A wildly under-appreciated stroke of brilliance…even if I’m the only one who thinks so.

The Fountain is about a 16th Century Spanish Conquistador who sets out to find the Tree of Life in the name of his Queen and restore Spain to its former glory before it’s conquered by outside forces. It’s also about a modern-day brain surgeon of sorts who copes (or doesn’t) with his wife’s fatal illness by spending every waking hour working to invent a cure for her instead of spending their final hours together by her side. And since everyone knows that two cross-generational intertwining story lines is never enough, it’s also about a man traveling through space with a big ol’ tree in a bubble to find a dying star that is said to bring people back from the grave.

And as I came to find very early on, this is exactly what divides the world in terms of those who regard this movie as a confusing mess and those who continue to preach the gospel of Darren Aronofsky from on high. As you’ve probably gathered by now, I’m situated quite nicely in the latter camp, but I’d be nothing short of the most pompous douche on the planet if I claimed to know what the hell is going on here even after two viewings. This was one of those rare instances where I had a movie on the brain to such an intense degree that the first thing I did when I walked through my front door was boot up my computer and spend the next two hours scouring message boards trying to figure out what I had just sat through. The only other time that’s ever happened was when I unsuccessfully tried to decode what the hell The Architect was rambling about in The Matrix Reloaded, but the lesson to take away from all this is that it’s rare for me to happen upon a movie that doesn’t quite make sense but keeps me coming back for more.

Granted, Aronofsky hasn’t exactly made a name for himself by being one of the most accessible directors out there, but that right there is so much of the draw. From Pi to The Wrestler, all his movies are a mental and emotional challenge that make you work for it, it’s never an easy trip getting there (“ass to ass”, anyone?), and The Fountain is no different. The plot is almost non-sequential to a fault, it’s extremely hard to make heads or tails out of the characters and whether or not they’re real/all the same person since they’re all played by the same two actors, and when the time finally comes where you think you might have a grasp on what’s going on, the last ten minutes or so will confirm your suspicions that you have no fucking clue whatsoever.

This is the same reason I’m still very hesitant to give Mulholland Dr. a second watch, but for some reason it works here and I love how it just adds to the ambiguity of it all. It really is a fascinating mediation on living in the face of death and the timeless pros and cons that come with the notion of immortality, and for the complaints I can pick out of here in terms of structure and whatnot, the wholly original, relatable and borderline profound insights this script poses on a subject that will always be a topic of discussion completely overshadow the weaknesses (which I happen to consider selling points anyway).

But the most immediately apparent strength that Aronofsky has going for him here are his visuals. Man, these freakin’ visuals, I don’t even know what to say. Just such a painstakingly crafted and utterly jaw-dropping feast for the retinas that completely blows away all the smoke and mirrors that we’ve grown so used to over the past couple years. God, I really can’t spell this out, it’s impossible, but the best I got is that it’s like watching an artist at work and if there’s any one quality about The Fountain that the haters and lovers can agree upon, it’s this. Absolutely unreal, worth seeing for this alone regardless of what you think of everything else.

Same goes for the soundtrack by Clint Mansell. Breathtaking stuff, right up there with Jonny Greenwood’s There Will Be Blood score in how I have no idea how it got snubbed for an Oscar nom. One of the few soundtracks I actually own.

And playing our tragic, star-crossed lovers are Hugh Jackman as Tommy and Rachel Weisz as his wife, Izzi. Now, there’s not a whole lot that needs to be said about Weisz, because Weisz the simply bomb and she’s solid as usual here. Good character and good counterpoint to Tommy. But the real surprise is Jackman. For a guy who’s probably never gonna escape his Adamantium skeleton and the claws that came with, he gives a great, tortured and very emotional performance that I had no idea he was capable of. Would love to see more stuff like this from him, dude carries the story along wonderfully.

But as much as I love this movie and consider it one of the greats of the past decade, that’s just me. After I first saw this movie and found myself flat-out floored by it long before the credits rolled, I went ahead and started recommending this to family and friends high and low, and much to my surprise, everyone was very polite in agreeing that I owed them all twelve bucks for passing up The Departed in lieu of this…thing. So with that being said, I can very much understand how newcomers might not fawn over The Fountain, but I still say give it a shot. Not every day you see something like this, and those visuals really are something else.

And if anyone’s interested, here’s my take on the stories: the Spanish Conquistador thing didn’t actually happen, that’s just Izzi’s story being acted out, but the rest – Wolverine discovering the Tree of Life growing out of his wife’s grave, getting all semi-immortal thanks to all the bark he eats, inventing a space bubble as he tattoos the shit out of himself while heading towards Xibalba way in the future – that all happened. No idea if it’s right or what, but I’m going with it. Talk amongst yourselves.

22 Comments leave one →
  1. August 11, 2010 1:25 am

    you’re not the only one who thinks so, the fountain is nothing if not beautiful at cosmic at the very least — and dense enough to find something new with every viewing.

    • August 11, 2010 8:08 am

      Well said. Still not quite sure what exactly happened during the last ten minutes, but all the more reason to keep on revisiting it. Glad you dig it, man.

  2. August 11, 2010 6:50 am

    I was going to say…I thought this was panned on release. I can’t say I’ve seen it and that’s partly due to the bad press it gets. If I see it playing on TV, I might give it go.

    • August 11, 2010 8:04 am

      Definitely worth a look, man. No idea where you’ll find this on TV, maybe SyFy or something, but I’m all for it. Let me know what you think when it finally comes your way.

  3. August 11, 2010 9:44 am

    Yes it looks good visually. But I saw it without really paying much attention to the story. It just didn’t grab me. What did though was the score. Beautiful.

    • August 11, 2010 9:46 am

      Yeah, that seems to be the general consensus on this one. Glad you dug the best parts though, hard not to, actually.

  4. August 11, 2010 1:41 pm

    Visually striking but I must say, a bit of a mess in terms of editing which makes the movie quite confusing even on multiple watch. Most people watching this the first time probably got lost multiple times due to that. I do enjoy the metaphysical aspect of it (and really wished Inception was more in this mold) however I would say 7.5/10 if that was me 😉

    • August 12, 2010 10:57 am

      A solid score for such a headtrip. I feel like that’s the general outlook on this thing, but I very much appreciated you putting it on your Top 100 of the decade (even if it was #100 I think).

  5. August 11, 2010 2:16 pm

    Finally someone else who appreciates this film as much as I do! I have it as the best movie of the past decade.

    For what it’s worth I’m pretty sure the space traveling was a metaphor for Tommy’s acceptance.

    • August 12, 2010 10:55 am

      Man, never thought I’d get a comment like this, I’m doing backflips over here.

      Very interesting insight about the space travel. I can dig that. Damn, now I need to watch the movie again.

  6. August 11, 2010 2:34 pm

    It’s been on my DVR all summer … glad to hear its worth a watch. When I find the time … grr start of school/college apps.

    • August 12, 2010 10:54 am

      hahaha. trust me, college is the perfect time to catch up on movies.

      • August 12, 2010 4:28 pm

        It really is, especially on the weekends.

  7. August 15, 2010 2:55 am

    I’m in your camp as well. The Spanish conquistador is definitely just the plot of Izzi’s book – thankfully, I always got that. Glad to hear Fitz’s theory about the bubble stuff; I never took those events as quite literal, but I couldn’t exactly tell you what they were, either.

    It’s a damn beautiful flick, and Aronofsky does some cool shit along the way – I especially think of the one shot where Tommy is driving towards the city and the perspective goes all upside down and shit (from what I recall). Nice touches between the three stories as well.

    It’s funny – when this was in the works, Brad Pitt was attached. Although he’s a favorite and I still think he’d do a kickass job, I have to admit that getting Jackman was probably better in the end. I love his look as the conquistador, and it’s probably my favorite perf of his.

    • August 16, 2010 8:53 am

      Man, I love that shot when the camera goes upside down, especially since the same shot is used when the Conquistador is traveling on horseback to the temple. Love all the repetition Aronofsky uses here, absolutely gorgeous, plays out like a Swiss watch.

      I saw that about Brad Pitt on Wikipedia, and after Jackman, I really can’t see him in the role. Definitely had the right look, this might even be better than Wolverine, at least X1 and X2 Wolverine.

      • April 2, 2011 1:36 pm

        In retrospect Pitt leaving was probably the best thing that happened.

  8. August 17, 2010 7:40 pm

    Yea, I really like this movie. Don’t know if I dig it as much as you, but it would be among my top 100 of the decade.

    Plus, there is only one film that has hurt my eyes from being too beautiful and this is the film. I get a headache every-time I see it but it’s always worth it.

    • September 1, 2010 3:24 pm

      I love thinking back to all the imagery in this movie. The one I’m nuts about is the hallway of floating candles in the Spanish Queen’s quarters. Freakin’ stunning.

  9. Chris permalink
    August 20, 2010 7:13 pm

    Thanks heaps for this review. I saw it a while ago but hadn’t been able to find it recently searching for “ape buddhist ring nirvana doctor etc.”. I finally got to this blog post searching for “movie Spanish Conquistadors”.

    • September 1, 2010 2:44 pm

      hahaha. yeah, not surprised you didn’t have much luck with that first search, but glad you found your way over all the same. And thanks for visiting, man.

  10. Nick permalink
    November 9, 2012 1:09 pm

    Clint Mansell did the soundtrack, not Mogwai and the Kronos Quartet.

    • November 9, 2012 1:57 pm

      Sonofa…! You’re right! Thanks for the heads up, will correct that, STAT!

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