Thursday, August 21, 2008

Film Review: The Fountain

"The Fountain" *** (out of ****)

Before watching Darren Aronofsky's "The Fountain" I was aware of the negative buzz floating around about the movie. For those not aware Aronofsky has directed two previous films, "Pi" and "Requiem for a Dream". His work is usually met with strong critical support and lack-luster box-office. But why had the critics turned on him with this film I wondered?

I have mentioned in the past my disinterest with public opinion. I don't do it to be indifferent or to try and be difficult, I just usually find myself on the outside of public opinion. Ever since I was a child I have not been interested in mainstream culture. So it should not come as a surprise to those who know me that I enjoyed "The Fountain" quite a bit despite its poor reception it received from critics and the public alike.

"The Fountain" is a film about love and death and the search for eternal youth. I'm reminded of the Benny Benassi song "Love is Gonna Save Us". The film centers on three parallel stories being told from different times in history all concerning the quest to stop death to protect/save love. The oldest of the three stories takes us to the Spanish Inquisition where a conquistador (Hugh Jackman) is sent by Queen Isabel (Rachel Weisz) to search for the Tree of Life, based on a Mayan myth which says the tree is located in the heart of the jungle. Our second story has Jackman playing a scientist named Tommy married to Izzi (Weisz again). She is writing a book called "The Fountain" but because of an illness may not be able to finish her work. And finally we have Jackman as another scientist, this time in the future, as Izzi is now a tree itself, which Jackman is trying to preserve, perhaps in hopes she will come back to life (?). If that sounds a little crazy to you, I forgot to mention in the third story Jackman floats around in space and has a bald head, so don't get too worked up about the possibility of a woman being a tree about to be reborn in sense.

The key to the understanding the film is that the first and third story are fiction. The first story was what Izzi was working on in her novel. The third story is Jackman's version of it. Only the second story takes place in reality. Or for a better term, Aronofsky's reality. Nothing in "The Fountain" is meant to be taken serious. We are dealing with metaphors and science and philosophy (two subjects I failed in school). Once we accept this and simply watch the movie without questioning anything it is only then I feel this film succeeds.

Three of my favorite critics; Michael Wilmington, A.O. Scott and Roger Ebert all disliked the film. Scott ended his reviewing saying "The Fountain is something to see, but it is also much less, finally, then meets the eye." And Wilmington begins his review stating "It's possible to admire or respect a movie without enjoying it too much, and that's partly the reaction I had to Darren Aronofsky's "The Fountain". It's an incredibly ambitious film of sometimes thrilling visual achievement, but it didn't connect fully to my mind and nerves."

The reason I separate from critics like Wilmington is because the film did connect to my mind and nerves. I'm either a hopeless romantic or just hopeless but the center idea of this film, search for a cure to prevent death to save love is one I can relate to. Without going into much personal detail, the idea of death has always plagued me. Like most people, I have lost people who have been very close to me, so the idea of stopping death is a subject I'd be interested in.

The film also takes on a religious aspect. Mention of Adam and Eve and the Tree of Life. Going back to the Bible is it said there were two trees in the garden of Eden. One which God forbade Adam and Eve from eating from (the Tree of Knowledge) and the Tree of Life. Tommy's family name we learn is Creo, Spanish for "I believe".

Aronofsky was going to film this story before in 2004 with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett in the leading roles but due to some difficulties the film was never completed. It was to be made on a budget of $75 million. Aronofsky later re-visioned the idea, made casting adjustments and brought the budget down to half. Who knows what the original would have been like and what the differences are but as it stand "The Fountain" is a film which I don't think deserves the negative attention it has received. Visually the film is impressive and the story, while some might argue is either too complex or in the case of A.O. Scott, "too simplistic" struck just the right chords for tragedy in my opinion.