Darren Aronofsky‘s The Fountain is an experience I cannot yet compare to any other in terms of film. Only in my wildest, most beautifully strange dreams have I seen something so equal-parts astonishing and bewildering. After first seeing it, I was left with a blown-away feeling I had yet to feel whilst watching a movie. It was like waking up from one of those dreams you simply have no choice but to write down and tell your friends of. This makes me baffled as to why the film did so poorly.
The Fountain tells a story that spans over a thousand years, or maybe it doesn’t? Three different storylines shows us three different periods of time, where each set of protagonists seem to be reincarnations of one another, or maybe they’re not? In the year 1500, Hugh Jackman plays conquistador Tomás, who has been commanded by the queen of Spain, Isabel (Rachel Weisz) to find out the location of the Biblical Tree of Life, which appears to be hidden somewhere in the Mayan territories of Central America. Isabel promises that the tree will grant eternal life and together with Tomás she shall live forever.
In the year 2005, Jackman is a medical doctor named Tommy Creo. Using bits from a special tree somewhere in South America, his colleagues are able to cure an ape of what seemed to be an utterly hopeless brain damage. Tommy believes that he might be able to research the tree further and use it to save his ill wife, Izzi, played by Weisz. Izzi is an author, who writes about the Mayan heaven Xibalba – also the name of a dying star not too far from our solar system. Her brain tumor makes her behave strangely and it eventually ends her up in the hospital. As she inches closer to death, Tommy nigh goes mad and vows to find a cure for death itself.
In the year 2500, Earth may or may not still exist. A man in a bubble-shaped spaceship, Tom (Jackman), containing the Tree of Life, is hovering through space, destination: Xibalba. Tom is constantly haunted by what appears to be the spirit of Izzi Creo from the 2005 storyline and he keeps speaking to the tree for comfort. He uses its bark to keep young and judging from the rings he’s tattooed into his arms, his life has been extremely long. It is when he reaches Xibabla, though, that something goes wrong and he begins to think his journey has been in vain.
Jackman and Weisz are of course the focus of the film, but there’s also Ellen Burstyn as Tommy’s co-worker Lillian, Cliff Curtis as Tomás’ captain, Mark Margolis as a monk and Stephen McHattie as an evil inquisitor in Spain. As for both Jackman and Weisz, this film displays some of the greatest performances I’ve seen from them. It is saddening that this is probably the best acting Hugh Jackman will deliver and it is the film he will be the least remembered for.
Indeed, it seems as though The Fountain is a film that didn’t do so well and hasn’t gained the praise I think it deserves. When a film touches all my sensitive spots in this way and takes me on such an unforgettably dreamlike journey, it’s a bit strange to see all those bashing reviews. Aronofsky was given the chance to direct Superman Returns and earn many millions, but he insisted on finishing The Fountain. That sort of dedication to art I also find admirable.
The film may have a confusing and unclear story (but so did Donnie Darko and people don’t mind that film), though that’s exactly what adds to the dazzling surrealist experience. Combine some of cinema’s most awe-inspiring imagery and visuals (almost every frame of the film resembles some sort of psychadelic painting) with what is honestly some of the best music I have ever heard in a movie, courtesy of Clint Mansell of course, and you’ve got yourself a cinematic journey not soon forgotten. It feels like a religious tale (moreso than any Biblical adaptation I’ve thus far watched), or perhaps even a fairy tale from the Grimm era.
One strange thing, though, is that there is no Fountain of Youth in The Fountain. Instead we get the Tree of Life. My guess is that Terrence Malick put dibs on the title Tree of Life before Aronofsky did. Interestingly, Brad Pitt, who was in Tree, was originally going to star in this movie but was eventually replaced by Jackman.
Aronofsky is a devastatingly talented filmmaker and it is baffling, at least to a fanboy like me, that such an intensely beautiful film can be so often regarded as his weakest film. Trust me when I say that The Fountain is a soothing and hypnotizing experience with an orgasmic soundtrack, breathtaking visuals (most aren’t even CGI, but microscopic images of bacteria and blobs of oil, if I recall correctly), strong performances, heartbreaking scenes, and imagery ranging from mesmerizingly beautiful to horrifying, like one of those typical Aronofksy shots where Jackman cuts his finger with a pen, which is made disturbing solely by how it’s shot and edited. It is and will for very long be one of my favourite movies!
This film is strongly adored by both me and my partner in filmmaking Viktor Dahlberg. In his words: “It’s so good I wanna sleep with the director”. I think he does The Fountain justice.