Sunday, June 17, 2007
THE FOUNTAIN (2006) - Darren Aronofsky
Director Darren Aronofsky set about making The Fountain after he completed Requiem For A Dream in 2000. The film went into production in Australia with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett in the central roles of Tom and Izzi, but soon shut down after Pitt left over creative differences with Aronofsky, and the studio pulled out of backing the film. Finally, in 2004, Aronofsky began filming The Fountain once again, with a stripped-down script and actors Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz in the main roles.
The Fountain takes place in three time periods. The three stories weave together and deal with death and eternal life. In 16th-Century Spain, we find Queen Isabel who is close to being executed by the Inquisition for crimes of heresy. She is obsessed with finding the Tree of Life, the tree from Eden which is believed to be located in South America. She sends her faithful conquistador, Tomas to find the tree, and to bring back to her the sap, which will give her eternal life. In modern day America, Dr. Tom Creo is a neurologist who is searching for a cure for brain tumors. He is obsessed with finding the cure, as his wife, Izzi is dying from a brain tumor. The cure may be found from the sap of a tree recently discovered in South America. And in the year 2500, we find Tom again, travelling through space towards a dying star, with only a tree for company. He is escorting the tree to the dying star where it is believed, Izzy's spirit may be reborn.
When written down like that, The Fountain sounds like it wont work as a film at all. Certainly, interweaving three distinctly different styles that would suit each story could become a major problem. Yet in the hands of Darren Aronofsky, this isn't so. Aronofsky has created one of the most unique and fascinating films of recent times. On the face of it, The Fountain is about the need to accept death as a part of life. Izzi knows full well she isn't likely to survive her tumor. She has accepted it, and is quite upbeat, yet her husband is completely unwilling to let go of the chance of saving her life. To the point where he actually misses out on spending time with her. On another level, the film is also about the nature of humanity. If we lived forever, would we lose a sense of who we are? And in this respect, The Fountain is kind of like a modern day 2001: A Space Odyssey. Certainly, the sci-fi element, as well as the jumps in time could be compared to Kubrick's masterpiece.
That isn't to say The Fountain isn't without it's flaws. There are moments where Aronofsky loses focus on the message of the film in favour of the visual side. However, Aronofsky is one of the best technical directors in the industry, and the imagery is incredible. The space scenes, while certainly very very far out, are absolutely stunning, the approach quite unlike anything you'll have seen before. And the cinematography, from long-time Aronofsky collaborator, Matthew Libatique is as good if not better than Requiem For A Dream.
Hugh Jackman delivers a career-best performance as the three versions of Tom Creo. He captures the obsession of both his work, and the love for his wife and queen perfectly, in a role that was criminally overlooked at awards time. Rachel Weisz is also brilliant as both Queen Isabel and Izzi Creo. Refined and elegant as the Queen, and wonderfully upbeat as Izzi. Ellen Burstyn also appears as Tom's boss, and is, as always, brilliant.
The Fountain divided critics and audiences alike. And it's not surprising it did so. In these days of pirates and superheroes, a film like The Fountain is going to seriously test the average Joe Multiplex. However, thank christ for Aronofsky, who has taken a helluva chance making this film. It is without a doubt one of the most individual and unique works of the last while. It's more of a painting or a poem then a movie. What's for sure is, for better or worse, this is a film that stays in the mind long after you've seen it.