“The Fountain” a metaphysical date movie
Every movie fan has a threshold– an approximate amount of time passage in which a film must go someplace, must establish its purpose, and grab the viewer’s attention. Obviously for some people, that time can be as short as five minutes. Others have the patience to wait until the final credits to determine whether the film was worth seeing. My threshold is about 15 or 20 minutes. If a film can’t at least spark serious curiosity in that span of time, it is unlikely to hold my attention for two hours.
“The Fountain” has noble goals. Its themes of love, life, and death are examined in three different time periods, the 16th, 21st and 26th centuries. Since the film begins by introducing the three stories (with the same primary characters) the first half hour, the film appeared to be too ambitious for its own good. But once it grounded itself in its present day setting, the film’s refreshingly unconventional narratives became easier to understand and appreciate.
Visually stunning, “The Fountain’s” primary story involves desperate scientist Tommy Creo (Hugh Jackman), who experiments on monkeys hoping to find a cure for his wife Izzy’s (Rachel Weisz) brain tumor. The extract from a Guatemalan tree produces an anti-aging effect– miraculous to be sure, but it can’t save Izzy’s life. His obsession to find a cure at the expense of spending time with his wife concerns his supervisor (Ellen Burstyn).
Flashbacks relate the novel that Izzy is writing about a Spanish conquistador (Jackman) on commission from Queen Isabella (Weisz) to travel to the Mayan jungles in search of the biblical tree sap that promises immortality. The third narrative, more ambiguous but elaborately filmed, is that of Tom the astronaut (Jackman) floating through space in a translucent orb accompanied by the tree of life. Bald and often in the lotus position, this part of the film displays far-eastern spiritual undertones that might be problematic for some, but which add to the film’s higher message about man’s search for greater meaning.
Jackman’s characters see death as an enemy while his one true love seems at peace with her destiny.
The slow pace and daylight-free, somber lighting of the film might be off-putting to some. But, like 2002’s “Solaris,” every scene is compelling, interesting, and furthers the narrative, whose substance is found not just through what is on screen but in the questions it provokes.
Credit director Darren Aronofsky (Weisz’s fianc?) whose previous films were either too quirky (“Pi”) or gratuitous (“Requiem for a Dream”) to be considered anything but promising experiments.
Though Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett were originally slated to star in “The Fountain,” the film benefits measurably by featuring an Oscar-worthy performance by Jackman in his most demanding role yet, and Weisz, whose on-screen grace and nobility are on fine display.
“The Fountain” doesn’t quite connect the dots on the themes it covers, but maybe that’s the point. What we are left with is a visually arresting, emotionally challenging film that dares to wander into spiritual realms. It seems fitting at this time of year to give thanks for such a heady effort, and to respectfully demand of the film industry, “More, please!”
Rated PG-13 for some intense scenes of violent action, some sensuality, and language.