Sci-Fi Storm

The Fountain DVD mini-review

by on May.13, 2007, under General News

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.



2 Comments for this entry

  • Anonymous Coward

    Explanation: WARNING: SPOILERS

    WARNING!!! SPOILERS!

    The Fountain is not lasers and spaceships science fiction. Don’t see it if you want that.

    It is Buddhism interpreted through a western science fiction lens. However, the message is not entirely Buddhist. Here is the basic plot:

    People reincarnate, and live the same lessons over and over till they learn them. Both main characters had to learn the lesson to give up the desire for eternal life. Weisz’s character learns this in her second incarnation, as a cancer patient, through the natural exhaustion of her karma. Jackman’s character also learns this in his second lifetime, but many many years later (it is not obvious at first that the future and present timelines are two views onto the same life).

    The dying tree of life in the future timeline is the tree that grew from the seed planted over Izzie’s grave. You will find that in one scene, Izzie talks about a custom of planting trees over graves in the hope that people’s souls would be transfered into the trees.

    Here is the order of events as they happened, not as they were shown.

    1) Thomas attempts the assassination.

    2) Isabella sends Thomas on the quest for eternal life, promising her hand in marriage if he succeeds.

    3) Thomas encounters the tree of life and its guardian, who recognizes him as “First Father”. Confused as to why, Thomas continues on, and stuffs the sap into his wound, which kills him.

    4) Zero or more reincarnations of no importance happen.

    5) Thomas and Isabella reincarnate as Dr. Creo and “Izze”, grow up, and get married. Izzie gets cancer. Dr. Creo attempts to find a cure.

    6) Izzie lets go of her last desire: that for eternal life. Her karma balanced at last, she achieves enlightenment. Ironically, in giving up the desire for eternal life, she attains her goal, and her spirit sticks around to help out Dr. Creo as a Buddha / Perfect Master / Great Saint / Whatever.

    7) Dr. Creo continues his research, and finds a cure for aging. He practices tai chi daily, and eats only from the tree of life, who’s seed he planted over Izzie’s grave. The tree begins to die, and using his powers / futuristic technology, he takes it, roots and all on a journey to Sebulba, in the hope that the light from the supernova / nova will revitalize the tree, and he will live forever. You can tell it is the same lifetime as the “present” timeline because of his tatoos, the first of which he gave himself after Izzie’s death.

    8) Izzie’s now enlightened spirit haunts him on his journey, showing him visions from his past designed to help him let go of his last desire (coincidentally also eternal life).

    9) Just prior to his moment of triumph, the tree dies. Perhaps this was Izzie’s fault?

    10) He accepts his fate calmly, letting go of his final desire.

    11) He dies in the supernova explosion, gaining enlightenment in the final split second of his life. He transcends time, space, and death, and becomes one with everything, including the first soul.

    12) Having transcended time, he shows himself to the guardian 1000 years prior, who lets him through as an incarnation of the Buddha, God, Adam, “First Father”, or whatever.

    It is natural that this movie is difficult to follow. Only a person with a strong grounding in science fiction and eastern mystic thought could follow it. I am amazed that a movie this far from the cultural norms of our society got made at the production value and with the actors that it did. However, I consider it a masterpiece.

    • Doc

      Re:Explanation: WARNING: SPOILERS

      Thank you very much for the clarification. This helps tremendously. I did think that there was some level of Buddist or yogic interpretation, but I myself am not versed in such.

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