The Fountain Review
Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain is an astounding audio-visual experience. Beautiful to look at and listen to, it works purely on your senses and your emotions. It's not a film to think about too deeply - there isn't a great deal of plot and Aronofsky doesn't have anything particularly profound to say. In terms of story and themes, the closest comparison is probably the 1993 tearjerker, My Life. That seems beside the point however when a film is this sumptuous and moving.
The basic story is simple. It tells of a medical researcher (Hugh Jackman) whose beloved wife (Rachel Weisz) is dying of cancer and who can't face letting her go. Instead of spending time with her while she's still alive, like she wants, he spends long hours working in his laboratory in the desperate, vain hope of finding a cure in time.
Running parallel with this contemporary storyline are two fantastical subplots. One, set in the past, involves a Spanish conquistador (Jackman) sent by his queen (Weisz) to the Americas to bring back the secret of eternal life. The other follows a solitary astronaut (Jackman once again) drifting through space in a kind of bubble, which he shares with a very old tree.
The three plotlines are eventually tied together. Like Pan's Labyrinth, The Fountain uses fantasy to illustrate the ways people deal with the world. While the contemporary scenes are shot realistically, the fantasy scenes are rich and magical. Aronofsky uses digital effects to conjure up Spanish torture chambers, South American temples, strange vegetation and bizarre outer space vistas. Cinematographer Matthew Libatique bathes the movie in light, giving it an ethereal look that suits the theme of life everlasting.
As important as the visuals is the music score by Clint Mansell, who was justifiably acclaimed for his previous collaboration with Aronofsky, Requiem For A Dream (that score keeps popping up on movie trailers!). His work here is equally good, the music complimenting the visuals perfectly. Also crucial to the film is a career best performance by Hugh Jackman, who enables us to empathise with the tormented hero.
The Fountain is an experience that washes over you. Some viewers will be swept away by it, others will be left cold. I know that because Requiem For A Dream left me as cold as any film ever has. While it was just as impressively made, I found its vision insanely nihilistic and I recoiled from it rather than let it take me where it wanted me to go.
The Fountain, while still fatalistic, is much easier to take. Requiem seemed like it was made to prove the theory, "life's a bitch and then you die". Aronofsky's show-off direction often grated also. The Fountain is less adolescent and its direction more mature. It deals compassionately with the everyday pain and unhappiness that we all face and the lengths we go to not to face it. Even if you don't totally accept its rather simplistic message - personally I'm grateful there are obsessive medical researchers working to keep me alive a little longer - it's a powerful and touching film.
Note: The Fountain has been given a disappointing UK release by distributors 20th Century Fox, who have treated it like a commercial flop they don't know what to do with, rather than the arthouse film it obviously is. As a result, you may have trouble finding a screen showing it. At the same time last year, Entertainment did a similar disservice to Terrence Malick's The New World, which some critics called the best film of 2005 but which was gone from UK cinemas within a fortnight.
Perhaps the problem is that too many serious-minded films are being crammed into the award season schedule, when the more serious filmgoers who might appreciate them don't have time to see them all. If The Fountain had been kept till late spring or summer, which is dominated by blockbusters and multiplex-fillers, and if it had been given a more thoughtful release, it might have had a chance to find an audience.
If you get a chance to see this on a big screen, do.