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The Fountain – film review

January 22, 2020

THE FOUNTAIN

Arronofsky’s intensely moving masterwork. Still as potent as ever.

Reviewed on Saturday 18th January 2020

Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Screenplay by Darren Aronofsky, story by Darren Aronofsky & Ari Handel. Starring: Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz and Ellen Burstyn. Year of Release: 2006. Running time: 97 mins.

A determined cancer researcher named Tommy Creol (Hugh Jackman) stumbles upon the key to immortality while desperately attempting to save the life of his dying wife Izzy (Rachel Weisz). At Izzy’s urging he begins to read an unfinished manuscript written by her titled The Fountain, a story set in the 16th Century detailing a Spanish Conquistador’s quest to locate the fabled Tree of Life in Central America; a plant whose sap (when ingested) is said to grant the recipiant everlasting life – in essence – the Fountain of Youth. Meanwhile – in the future, a now immortal Tommy – determined to reunite with Izzy, travels with The Tree of Life to a far off Nebula; a place where the Mayans believed souls go to be reborn.

While being intensely moved and affected upon first seeing this film in theatres back in the day, and knowing I had seen something so deeply profound it would stay with me my whole life and remain one of my favourite films of all time, it’s odd I never felt the urge to revisit it – until now. Perhaps it was because I felt a re-watch might diminish it in some way; take away from the perceived perfection of it in my memory. If anything, the adverse is true – as being away from it for over a decade has only made me love this film even more (if that’s even possible).

Originally conceived while in post on Requiem For A Dream, Aronofsky and his writing partner Ari Handel attempted to mount a big budget version of The Fountain in Australia in 2003 (featuring Brad Pitt in the lead). Frustratingly, just weeks prior to the start of principal photography on the Gold Coast – production was shut down after the sudden departure of Pitt and the gigantic sets dismantled and auctioned off. What followed was a reworking of the script in order to tell the same story with only half of the original budget. This ended up being something of a blessing in disguise – as it forced Aronofsky and Handel to distill the elements even further. Relocating to Toronto, Canada – production recommenced two years later with Hugh Jackman now cast in the lead.

While he criminally missed out on an Oscar nomination for The Fountain, this is without a doubt Hugh Jackman’s best performance ever. The same with Rachel Weisz. Up to this point, Weisz was best known for her more comedic roles in The Mummy and The Mummy Returns. So it was something of a revelation to see her be given the opportunity to express her dramatic range. And the chemistry between her and Jackman is absolutely the make or break for this film. It simply would not work without it.

Thematically the film explores ideas of synchronicity, acceptance of death as being a natural progression and the importance of living in ‘the now’ – over fearing the future or dwelling on the past. It also tells us there is definitely a higher purpose to us being here in this realm. While it doesn’t necessarily spell out what that purpose is, it does indeed reassure us that it’s absolutely there nonetheless.

Upon initial viewing, the film’s structure may appear to be deceptively complex; cutting back and forth between three distinctively different (and intricately-woven) parallel story threads: Izzy’s 16th Century tale (with Jackman and Weisz playing the Conquistador Tomas and the Queen of Spain respectively), the main present-day narrative (as Tommy attempts to save Izzy’s life) – and the future sequences (where an immortal Tommy travels through space with the Mayan Tree of Life). Upon closer inspection – the structure is really quite straight forward. Having said that however – and much like the original Jacob’s Ladder or the more recent Mr. Nobody and Cloud Atlas, the perceived narrative complexity and intricate nature of The Fountain does indeed demand our complete focus and undivided attention – in order to fully comprehend what is going on and ultimately understand the message on offer. For instance, there is a crucially important dialogue exchange between Tommy and Izzy at the museum which is key to understanding the significance of Tommy’s almost spiritual relationship with the Mayan tree in the future space sequences (while also being something which relates directly to film’s final scene – where Tommy plants an exotic-looking seed at Izzy’s grave). Admittedly something I missed upon my initial viewing of the film. Utilizing matched cuts (while incorporating dialogue from the next scene) – the transitions between the three story threads feel natural and organic – and far less jarring than they could have been in lesser hands.

Matthew Libatique has been the DP on all of Aronofsky’s films and his lensing on The Fountain is among some of his best work. This film is simply gorgeous to look at; almost Kubrickian in its symmetry. And while each of the three story threads has its own unique look – there are also key similarities – particularly with regard to the use of sumptuous golden hues which feature prominently throughout (and especially in the spectacular scenes involving the bubble spaceship’s arrival at the Nebula which climaxes the movie).

Aronofsky was determined not to utilize any CGI in the depiction of the Nebula – instead employing the talents of Peter Parks (previously of Oxford Scientific Films     Ltd) – an optical effects technician known for his incredibly beautiful macro-photography and his expertise in filming chemical reactions in petri dishes to represent cosmic phenomena (his talents were also used to great effect in Superman: The Movie and more recently in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life).

It would be remiss of me to finish this review without mentioning the score by Aronofsky’s resident composer Clint Mansell. Mansell – a major talent in his own     right – once again delivers a beautiful score which masterfully enriches the emotional experience (here again collaborating with Australia’s-own Kronos Quartet to great effect – having worked with them previously on Requiem).

Whilst I do admire and appreciate every single one of Darren Aronofsky’s films,         The Fountain still remains, in my mind at least, this visionary director’s crowning achievement.

5 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

From → film reviews

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