Director Darren Aronofsky has been working on this film for at least six years, suffering budget cuts and studio rejections, even losing Brad Pitt to “creative differences” when attempting to film it in 2002. I don’t have the highest regard for Mr. Pitt’s taste, but I think I can see why he abandoned the film. The Fountain bears all the hallmarks of a pet project: it is epic in scope, infused with a decidedly personal religious flavor — and it stars the director’s wife (the lovely Rachel Weisz) as an awe-inspiring Muse. Weisz plays this role in two forms: primarily, as Izzy, the cancer-stricken wife of the film’s main character, research scientist Tommy (Hugh Jackman), and also as Queen Isabella, who sends Spanish conquistador “Tomas” (also played by Jackman) on a quest to New Spain to find the Tree of Life in the ruins of an ancient Mayan empire. There’s also a future version of Tommy, soaring through space in a gorgeous bubble-ship which contains what appears to be the same Tree of Life sought by his exploring counterpart.
Yes, it’s as interconnected as it sounds, and it does all come together in the end. The Fountain is a striking film visually, but I found it to be way over-the-top in its aesthetic. Overall, the scenes in space are attractive and appropriately other-worldly. Aronofsky filmed them without using computer imagery — according to IMDb, because “CGI would take away from the timelessness of the film and he wants the film to stand the test of time.” (For more on this, read the article which recently appeared in Wired.) Unfortunately, the film’s themes and storyline don’t support the intensity of the images, and this is especially true of the score, which is ruthless. I think I understood what Aronofsky wanted me to understand — I just didn’t think it was all that wonderful, profound, or even especially beautiful.
People will likely refer to The Fountain as a movie you “either love or hate,” creating a distinction between people who understand it (and therefore love it) and people who are unable to. This is a false dichotomy. The trouble with The Fountain isn’t that it’s hard to understand, but that the truth it leads us into is one that will either move you or it won’t. The difference between two observers, in this case, isn’t one of comprehension, but closer to the difference between two churchgoers who receive a pastor’s story in different ways: for one, it contains profound truths which are deeply meaningful to their life at the present time — but to the other, the response is nothing more than a deadening “yeah, so what?”
(For more on the filmmaker’s intent, I would strongly suggest reading this recent interview in Seed, in which Aronofsky is quite candid in explaining what the film means to him. Also, check out David Edelstein’s brief review: “I’m glad he made it, and I hope he got the Transcendental Messianic Artist virus out of his system.”)