Video Vault: The Fountain

The Fountain
2006: Darren Aronofsky
Rated R – 96 minutes
Vault Rating: 6

Darren Aronofsky has always been looking at the big picture. That is, his films always seem to be in pursuit of God or some state of grace or understanding.

In his shattering 1998 debut, “Pi,” you could see it in Max Cohen’s brilliant mind as he cracks a universal code and discovers the very name of the divine. In his rending follow up, “Requiem for a Dream,” you can see it in the eyes of heroin addicts as they jettison this world for that.

I have often said you can understand a director’s most important underpinnings in their earliest work. Aronofsky is aiming for the same Holy Grail here — the meaning of life, the universe and everything, if you will — and shoots just wide of the mark.

A Vault Rating of 6 is one cut above average (5), sure, but it is also one cut below recommended (7). Still, it is an intelligent science fiction and an epic love story strewn across centuries that may well find its way into some hearts.

At the center of the story is the fountain of the title. We quickly find that we are talking about the proverbial fountain of youth, represented here by its mythical equal, the tree of life. Most cultures have some equivalent in order to deal with the very human fear of death.

In Eden, for example, there were two trees: The Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life. We all know how THAT turned out. Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz are our Adam and Eve who return again and again for a taste of the other tree.

Naturally, any story about the fountain of youth has got to begin with Spanish conquistadors, Jackman as Thomas, in tropical climes of the new world. His forever love, or at least his love of half a millennia or so in today’s context, is none other than Queen Isabel.

Story number two finds our still beautiful heart-throbs in present day America where “Tommy” has become a doctor seeking to cure a dread disease that threatens “Izzy.”

Story number three takes place in a distant future where “Dr. Tom Creo” (I like the name: translated, it is “Dr. Tom I Think”) is making a space voyage into the heart of a nebula where we find that the third time, indeed, is the charm.

Here, Aronofsky is sharing the road with Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Not that they’re making the same point: The films are worlds apart, but they both reach for space to explain bigger things. Kubrick, simply put, was saying “man” is not the end of the evolutionary line. Aronofsky is going for human immortality, or, more specifically, the nature of life.

To do so, “The Fountain” examines life and death by suspending life as the world flashes by. Our conquistador is constant, charging toward the light at the end of the tunnel, but never seeming to gain any ground, as if he is trapped in the birth canal. It is natural, then, that most of the shots in this film are backlit and track in a straight line, mimicking an infant’s path to life. Nothing here moves in circles that might suggest a kind of cliched “circle of life” theme.

I think, in “The Fountain,” there is only forever and not forever. Or maybe death as necessary to beginning … We are getting a bit metaphysical, are we not?

In order to tell a love story across space and time like this Aronofsky finds it necessary, and I think rightly so, to use both faded memory and short, vivid images to expose the long relationship in a way that reveals emotional weight rather than myriad details. Bravo. If you lived with somebody for 500 years and were still young and beautiful and madly in love, would there not be some amazingly vivid memories?

As a sci-fi, “The Fountain” is interesting. As a love story, it is cool to the touch. But what is going to confuse everyone who watches this film is the synapse between the film’s first and second epoch.

When we leave Thomas in Myan jungles he is literally pushing up daisies. The audience is left to wonder how, then, does he wind up in modern day America with centuries of memories intact. Unless the climactic scene in story No. 1 is a figurative scene or a metaphor, the audience is left to make a huge jump that damages the entire film. Had the director solved this puzzle for us, we’d have been far ahead. Perhaps he just fell in love with this particular image. I liked the image as a taste, say, of enlightenment, but found it confusing. You will, too.

Hey! You’re welcome. And so are your comments. Go to the main Video Vault page where you can see all of our recent reviews and click on the little green envelope at the top and you can have your say in this space too.

And, until my lower lumbar gets the hell off my sciatic nerve … (ooof!) … It’s iced Perrier and strawberries for everyone! Enjoy!

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