Darren Aranofsky’s The Fountain, starring Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz, comes out on Tuesday, but I was able to see it today and here is a mini-review for your digestion. In brief: it will make you think…and wonder…and think…
The film chronicles events at three different periods of time: the present day, 500 years in the last in Spain during the time of the Inquisition, and 500 years in the future, with all three events revolving around the Tree of Life, a man names Tomas/Tommy, and a woman named Isabella/Izzie.
In the present day Tommy is an Oncology researcher experimenting with Rhesus monkeys in an attempt to find a cure for brain tumors, which his wife Izzie suffers from and is at a terminal stage. During a particular test, Tommy decides to add a compound derived from a particular tree that had a similar molecular structure to what they were investigating. Izzie in the meantime is writing a manuscript entitled “The Fountain”, and has accepted her eventual fate. She speaks to Tommy about a nebula that the Mayans called Xibalba, the Underworld.
In the past, the conquistador Tomas is trying to assassinate an Inquisitor who is attempting to overthrow the Spanish Queen Isabella. He is instead ordered by the queen to seek out the Tree of Life in the New World, and runs afoul of the native Mayans.
In the future, an “astronaut” is traveling in a sphere with the dying Tree of Life to the Xibalba nebula with the hope that it will rejuvenate the tree, while he is haunted by visions of Izzie.
Personally, I found the film confusing. There is nothing except the images of Isabella/Izzie in the future scenes to indicate that the three men may be one and the same. The abrupt switching between the timelines, especially between future and present, make it seem as if the the other timelines may only be his imagination. The turning point of the movie with the astronaut made it seem like something would change in the past somehow, but we only see one difference and nothing on the resulting effect. And Tommy somehow winds up with what appears to be a seed from the Tree of Life, but it is unknown what effect planting the seed had. I’m also not certain what significance the title of The Fountain had. At first glance you would think it had to do with the Fountain of Youth, and the Tree of Life in this movie is related to that concept, but that’s it.
The movie makes important use of imagery and symbolism, which unfortunately can be lost on most expecting a cookie-cutter SF film as opposed to an art film. I would describe it as having elements reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey, especially at the climax of that film where the imagery takes over (and interpretation is left to the viewer). Lighting is especially evident, with mostly gold and white lighting (that was a VERY DARK hospital). Izzie is always shown in bright white lighting, in a way indicating her acceptance of death, while Tommy is always shown in dark shadows, representing his fear of death.
Unfortunately, this darker imagery has issues, at least on the DVD. Scenes are almost black at times, making it impossible to understand what is happening, especially in the earlier scenes. Acting wise, the main focus is on Tommy (in all three forms) and Izzie. Rachel Weisz did well as the terminally ill Izzie, portraying acceptance as opposed to fear. Hugh Jackman, as the three different representations of Tommy, portrayed them as three different characters – and was almost unrecognizable as the bald astronaut, giving a widely different persona to any of his previous roles that I have seen.
The DVD production is pretty basic, with static menus. Special Features limited to a set of six featurettes collectively titled “Inside the Fountain – Death and Rebirth”, detailing the production. (Note: Strong language)
I hate to tag the movie as “cerebral”, as that seems to be a tag often used to describe a movie no one understands, and I think the movie as a whole is better than that even though parts of it were not understandable. That said, if you are willing to put some thought into it and not expecting some alien bug fest, I recommend picking up The Fountain and giving it a try. Exercising your brain cells is a good thing.