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The Fountain ( )
Written and Directed by Darren Aronofsky

Principal Cast
Hugh Jackman -- Tomas/Tommy/Tom Creo
Rachel Weisz -- Isabel/Izzi Creo
Ellen Burstyn -- Dr. Lillian Guzetti
Mark Margolis -- Father Avila
Stephen McHattie -- Grand Inquisitor Silecio
Fernando Hernandez -- Lord of Xibalba
Cliff Curtis -- Captain Ariel
Sean Patrick Thomas -- Antonio
Donna Murphy -- Betty
Ethan Suplee -- Manny
The Fountain Graphic Novel
The Fountain Official Webpage
The Tree of Life in mythology
Rachel Weisz
Hugh Jackman

Ratings

One star - three day old burrito
Two stars - leftover potato salad
Three stars - green chile cheeseburger
Four stars - chicken enchiladas
Five stars - grilled salmon with avocado sauce
 
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The Fountain
 
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The Fountain
Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Newbert

"It's all done except the last chapter. I want you to help me. Finish it..." -- Izzi Creo

The Fountain
Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain is either going to enchant you or frustrate you, and there's a good chance it will manage to do both. Its closest cinematic ancestor is 2001: A Space Odyssey, and despite Kubrick's masterpiece recently being named one of the best films of all time (Sight and Sound poll, 2002) even that movie has left its own contingent of the disgruntled. Both films are about adventurers pushing past the limits of the known physical world and finding themselves having to draw on spiritual resources to complete the journeys -- the kind of thing that used to be indicated on maps with "Here there be tygers." Both movies use disjointed narratives and are heavy with symbolism. But whereas 2001 was enthralled with the approaching space age, Aronofsky's story is in touch with something more primitive (and takes at least a small degree of inspiration from the novels of Eduardo Galeano).

Beyond the performances and the direction, The Fountain has virtues which are conspicuously missing from a lot of films these days. It forges images that are not only intensely beautiful but also deep wells of metaphor, drawing together image and theme, and often linking action that's been separated in narrative time -- it's a movie whose narrative essence is its own typology. It casts a spell that's hypnotic, but the script is tight and energetic, and you're a little surprised at the end to find it's only 96 minutes long. And what's most refreshing, The Fountain has a passionate root of emotion that defeats cynicism without being dishonestly saccharine. The problem lies in just how accessible all of this is to the average viewer. Nominally about a man who will do anything to conquer death for love, it first has a job to do in conquering its audience.

The film stars Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz, both appearing as different characters in three different time periods. In the present, Jackman is Tom Creo, a research scientist trying to find a way to save his wife Izzi (Weisz), a novelist slowly dying of a brain tumor and who is racing to finish her final manuscript. Her novel, titled "The Fountain,"" and functioning as a center of gravity for the film's narratives, is about a 16th century conquistador (also played by Jackman) who is dispatched to the jungles of South America by Queen Isabella (Wiesz again) in order to find the Fountain of Youth before the queen is captured and put to death by the Spanish Inquisition. And several centuries in the future, Jackman plays a lone astronaut, hurtling past the galaxies towards a nebula wrapped around a dying star. He travels in a giant transparent bubble of a spacecraft, where his only companions are an aged tree that he treats as another person and his dramatically vivid memories of the past.

None of this, however, is delivered in a conventionally linear fashion. Like a Vonnegut novel, the film is unstuck in space and time, leaping backwards and forwards and making demands on viewers to draw out the symbolic and thematic connections among its storylines. That is to say, you begin to not just watch the film, but to read the film, paying attention to a kind of secret narrative that's coded in the imagery. For instance, Jackman's astronaut has been tattooing his arm with dark rings of ink, using a worn-out quill pen. It's registered first as a striking image, then you make the match between the rings on his arm and the rings inside the tree beside him; later on, you learn that the ink and the pen are for his completion of Izzi's novel, but they may also be metaphors of Inquisitional torture, and so forth.

As the film shifts timestreams, you find yourself keeping an eye out for such links. It takes some hubris to construct a film like this and push it into the mainstream, but Aronofsky makes it work (and kudos also to cinematographer Matthew Libatique, who makes it all shine). Everything comes around more than a few times, like objects spinning on a merry-go-round. That tree may be the Tree of Life, those rings an analogue of immortality (including a couple of different wedding rings), and the novel a way we make sense of our past and our future.

A structure so intellectual for what, in the final analysis, is a romantic love story would be antithetical without an emotional taproot, and to that end Jackman is the film's go-to guy. He's rarely been as versatile or as engaging as he is here, a pleasant surprise for fantasy fans who are used to seeing him as Wolverine (a stint that was beginning to wear thin lately, especially in the lame X-Men 3). It's his performance -- or performances, really -- that get you to apprehend the film's emotional weight.

Rachel Weisz has the burden of playing a muse to our Creo, and she brings light and vivacity and what precious little humour there is in this Fountain. Creo's mantra -- "Death is a disease. There is a cure. And I will find it." -- is solemn but threatens to kill the fun. Izzi, in her character's optimism, her eagerness to see the mythological dimensions of her experience, and her determination to make something meaningful and joyous out of it, is the balance. So good are these moments that it comes as a shock later to realize just how many of her scenes have a subtext of bereavement. Weisz doesn't quite look like she's dying of anything serious, but she's rarely looked lovelier than she does here, no doubt one of the benefits of having your boyfriend as the film's director.

The Fountain is a strange, singular experience, and it would help if the viewer had some understanding of myth and its place in mankind's history and religion. That isn't to say you need a master's degree to enjoy the film. I'm still talking about the movie with people who saw it opening weekend. It's highly ambitious and even a little pretentious, but for those of you who have been demanding something different out of movies today, here it is. Feel courageous, and push past the edge.

Copyright © 2006 David Newbert

David Newbert worked for public and university libraries for several years while studying film and literature, then joined the college book trade. He grew up on the East Coast, though he currently lives in New Mexico, where the aliens landed. He likes trees.


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