Written and Directed by Darren Aronofsky
THE FOUNTAIN reinvigorates the meaning of “labour of love.” Writer/Director Darren Aronofsky’s ambitious offering had many eyes on it from the moment of its conception, through its disastrous pre-production period and even more so now as it finally unrolls into theatres. When his last film, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, struck many a chord amongst many a different viewer (it is a compelling plea to not use drugs as many people watch the film high and never want to touch the stuff again), people knew they had a young genius in Aronofsky. Naturally, Hollywood wanted him all to itself. The problem is that Aronofsky is anything but Hollywood. When THE FOUNTAIN got the green light from a major Hollywood studio, conditional to Brad Pitt’s attachment to the project, Aronofsky found himself in a new world. In this world, budgets blow up to $75 million, stars back out, funding disappears and you can spend $20 million without shooting a single frame. When THE FOUNTAIN was shut down, Aronofsky would not let go. This is the film his heart wanted to make and so he scaled the budget down to $35 million and found a new cast and new funding. Somehow though, while everyone scrambled to get THE FOUNTAIN made, no one seemed to notice what a hard sell it was going to be. Aronofsky attempts to show in an hour and a half that we as humans are not of our bodies but that the soul, life and love are eternal; that the death of our physical bodies is both a natural and necessary part of what we know as life; that we should neither fear it nor fight it but accept it as peacefully as possible. He attempts to tell this by stretching his story over a thousand years. Though the vastness of his ideas lose some focus around the edges and struggle to remain congealed, THE FOUNTAIN remains incredibly beautiful with piercing performances by Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz that plant the seeds necessary for Aronofsky’s ethereal ideas to grow in the souls of his audience. Despite all the love given, the roots could have still used a little more water.
Jackman and Weisz play Tom and Izzi Creo in the year 2000. Izzi has an inoperable tumor in her brain and not much time left on earth. Tom is a scientist, a rational man who believes that death is no more than another disease that can one day be cured. As Tom tries to play God, Izzi embraces that she will soon meet God. Jackman plays Tom as tortured and desperate and his performance is in direct conflict with Weisz’s embodiment of Izzi as a creative beacon of repose and understanding. Yet they still manage to share a life together, one that is clearly based on a deep and engrossing love that binds them, thanks to a tender, caring chemistry between Jackman and Wiesz. The present day chemistry needs to be solid in order for the bookending to fall into place. 500 years later, Tom finds himself traveling through space towards a dying star in order have that life that is fading be reborn in the tree of life he is traveling with. 500 years earlier, Tom finds himself searching for the tree of life in order to give himself and his queen (an earlier incarnation of Izzi) eternal life. It is in these two extremes that Aronofsky exhibits his strengths and weaknesses. The future scenes are organic and spiritual making his quest seem plausible in an other-worldly fashion but the past sequences, told as a story and not confirmed as an actual past life, seem stagy and forced.
Aronofsky’s ambition opens minds to new possibilities but it also takes on too much. A common thread was obviously necessary to tie three story elements that span a thousand years but he focuses on two threads instead, causing a struggle. Tom and Izzi’s love anchors the center story but though Izzi is present in the past and future, their love is not the central issue. There is an expectation that it would be more prominent that is never fulfilled. Instead, what Tom cannot deal with in the central story becomes the focus in the later and prior. No matter when, Tom is always seeking the key to eternal life. Death brings about rebirth and Tom must spend a thousand years trying to figure that out. It is ultimately Tom’s journey but Izzi is so compelling that she draws attention away from him. Despite this, the timelessness of his quest shows how fighting against death is an unnatural exertion that limits potential when one is fortunate enough to be alive that can also only reach its true potential by crossing through death.
There is no dispute that Aronofsky is a genuine artist and genius in his own right. THE FOUNTAIN shows his insight, his openness and his innovation. How else can one describe the usage of chemical reactions in a Petri dish shot with a microphotography camera as the backdrop for the future scenes? The technique is even intrinsically linked to the themes of the film. Obviously the scientific approach is an extension of Tom’s profession but the approach was also chosen to give the film a timeless feel and avoid the dating that can sometimes happen with CGI. But for all its ingenuity, THE FOUNTAIN never feels like it has fully translated from Aronofsky’s complex mind to the screen. That being said, there are worse places to be trapped than the mind of a genius.