The Fountain (2006)
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.