Have I covered any Darren Aronofsky films yet? As I reach review number 170 I’m starting to lose track of what I have and haven’t covered. I’ve been meaning to tackle one of his films on here for some time because he is honestly one of the more interesting of today’s directors. He’s a guy who’s been tied multiple times to big flashy franchise films, always teasing us with the potential brilliance he could bring to the series, just to back out in favour of making another low budget near arthouse film. His début Pi was a real micro budget film. He’s most well known now for Black Swan and The Wrestler, both excellent films. Personally I think Requiem For A Dream is his best work. But he did make one large budgeted feature, that being today’s film, The Fountain. What is interesting about The Fountain is despite having a large budget and quite a bit of marketing behind it he managed to make his most polarising film to date. Click the link for my thoughts on The Fountain.
This first paragraph is going to be fun. How to describe the plot of The Fountain. Right. The Fountain is set in 3 separate time zones, those being the 16th century, 2005 and 2500. The main character Tomas/Tommy/Tom exists on all three time lines each version played by Hugh Jackman. In 2005 he Tommy, a main pained by the gradual slow death of his wife Izzi (Rachel Weisz) to cancer. Tommy is a doctor investigating a cure to cancer and allowing himself to be consumed by his work in the hope he can find a cure for his wife. Izzi has been writing a book about a Conquistador named Tomas who headed into the Mayan jungles to find the Tree Of Life for his Queen Isabella (Again played by Weisz). When Tommy reads the book he envisions himself as Tomas but the connection is alluded to to be more than that. In 2500 Tom has apparently found the secret to eternal life after finding the Tree Of Life and is now travelling through the stars in a giant bubble to return the tree to a dying star the Mayans worshipped. Along the way he sees visions of Izzi/Isabella from the two main points in his past and is made to remember those events. As the film moves on we are shifted between each time line via the medium of repeating visual motifs. So yeah, don’t go into this expecting the most coherent story you’ve ever seen.
This film is a tough one to judge because on the one hand it is visually stunning, the performances are strong, it’s identity as a unique look at life, death and love is maintained throughout. It is also a film that you will certainly have some fun picking apart and re-analysing later. On the other hand it’s story lacks flow, starts off very very slowly and is so aware of just how arty it is being that you can’t help but think that it is trying to hold people at bay. It’s clear he was beyond the realm of creative restrain here and if the budget was as it was originally set, at $70million which is double the actual budget, I really fear just how much further he would have pushed this.
Thankfully the good elements of The Fountain are strong enough to outweigh some of the more weaker elements. There is a continually sombre mood coming from Tommy over the course of the film which could prove a bit of a downer for some but that is kind of the central theme. The film is essentially about his inability to accept that his wife is dying to the degree that he somehow figures out how to cheat death himself. When we see the Tommy of 2500 he’s a very Zen like character who spends his days talking to a tree that he appears to believe has the spirit of Izzi within it. The film throws about a lot of various religious ideas around including reincarnation and the idea that life is cyclical. One way Aronofsky loves to show these themes to you is by using a lot of triangles and circles as visual metaphors for the cycles and stages of life. This message is handled a little too heavy handedly over the course of the film though. A trait that an artist maybe has too much freedom to create and so is locking himself in a constant state of asking his audience “Do you see?”.
The film is beautifully shot which to be fair isn’t uncommon for Aronofsky. Here though he is really showing off his ability to compose a shot. This is helped by having his regular cinematographer Matthew Libatique on board. Libatique is a guy that enjoys setting up shots to use some form of symmetry or to be built around a central shape or object. This really comes into its own in the films final future scenes where Tom is ascending in a bubble towards a dying star sat in a lotus position. Jackman sat in a triangle pose inside a circle and it flies towards a giant tunnel of circles. It’s worth mentioning that the visual effect I’ve posted in some of the screenshots of the dying stars surrounding nebula is not CGI at all. It’s actually macro camera captured imagery of fluids and bacteria floating around ion a dish. It’s an incredibly stunning effect and shows just how outside the box Aronofsky will think about the look of his films. Another visual theme is light. Tommy is shown in shadow a lot at the earlier points of the film and gradually, as he discovers his own “truth” he becomes bathed in light. Aronofsky uses a hell of a lot of golden spot lighting too in his sets which help add to the dream like nature of the film. To add to this Izzi is regularly shown to be bathed in light, especially as she comes closer and closer to being on terms with the idea of her impending death. Which leads to Tommy’s light representing his acceptance of it… 500 years later. What an old romantic fool.
There is an accompanying comic made to tie into the film but I haven’t had the chance to read it. I have no idea if it manages to add some sense of cohesion to the story but to be honest I don’t expect it to. The film is structured in such a way that you will constantly have ideas about what is going on but by the end you have a conclusion. What’s quite good though is that you’ll still be trying to decide just what all the films final imagery really meant. I don’t want to reveal too much but there’s enough going on that you’ll likely have a different idea of the films “truth” than many others that will have seen this. It’s that sort of film. Some films really pull that off, Mulholland Drive for example. The Fountain just about manages to pull this off. Just.
On the whole The Fountain is a very contentious movie for many people and it is, if I’m honest, my least enjoyed of all of Aronofsky’s works. Although using the term “enjoyed” with a director that brought us one of the most depressing films of all time in Requiem For A Dream might be a mistake. What I should say is that I feel it is his weakest but only due to how shaky it’s story is. This is a very high budget arthouse film and if it proves anything it’s that films this tough sell to an audience shouldn’t cost $35million to make. That said he’s throwing about a lot of beautiful imagery and symbolism here which results in a very unique cinematic experience. It’s a strange, pretty and very dreamlike film but one many will struggle to get on with. Aronofsky’s next film is Noah, which as you can tell is based on the story Noah’s Ark. The budget is $130million. I am concerned.