(Warner Bros.) There really has never been another film quite like Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain. It's a film of such beauty and philosophical depth that it would stand out as a masterpiece in any director's body of work. Aronofsky's resumé is certainly impressive, even without The Fountain; he wrote, directed, and produced the esoteric thriller, Pi, wrote the superior WWII ghost tale, Below, wrote and directed the bleak drug story, Requiem for a Dream, directed and produced The Wrestler and Black Swan, and produced David O. Russell's The Fighter. However, The Fountain hums with strange energy, wild ideas, and heartbreaking desires.
The structure of the film is itself unique, following the same two characters in three different time periods. The characters are Tomás / Tommy / Tom (Hugh Jackman) and Queen Isabella / Izzi / Izzi's spirit (Rachel Weisz). Tomás is a Spanish conquistador searching the New World for the Tree of Life at the behest of his queen. Tommy is a neuroscientist struggling to find a cure for his wife Izzi's brain tumor. Tom is a space traveler sailing toward the shining nebula of Xibalba with a dying tree inside a mysterious bubble. All three Toms believe they can discover the secret that will allow them to beat death and bring about a rebirth of their love and faith in life. All three Izzis want them to accept death as a natural part of being alive.
Aronofsky has said in interviews that the impetus for writing The Fountain came from his own parents both being diagnosed with cancer in 1999. He has also said that his research into the lives of dying people revealed that many with terminal illnesses feel alienated from their loved ones because they are forced to accept mortality in a way that the living are often unable to. This problem is at the heart of Izzi and Tom's timeless relationship. Izzi sees her death approaching and wants to embrace it. Tom refuses, wanting only to save her for himself. It's a theme as grand and personal as human myth can conjure, and the remarkable thing is that this particular myth came from the minds of only two men: Aronofsky and his college roommate, Ari Handel.
Tommy's crazed ambition to “Stop dying...stop dying!” is a quest every bit as mad as Tomás' trek through the jungle or Tom's surreal journey to Xibalba. Watching it unfold, you know in your heart that he's lost all perspective on life, yet the drive to find immortality is as old as humanity. Is it still crazy if the vast majority of human endeavor has been directed toward that very goal? We all seek to conquer death every day of our lives, be it physically, emotionally, symbolically, or intellectually — so something that everybody does all the time can't be considered crazy, right?
The Fountain takes this fascinating paradox and explodes it into allegorical fireworks over 96 minutes of screen time. The film is so beautifully shot that you'd never guess its original budget of $70 million was cut in half before filming even began. Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett were set to play the lead roles, until Pitt left over differences of opinion on the script and the production was shut down by Warner Bros. Aronofsky debated other projects, but found that he had such a passion for The Fountain that he simply had to make it. This irresistible passion is probably where all great works of art come from. Aronofsky re-wrote the script, removing the expensive scenes, and convinced Warner Bros. to re-start the project at $35 million. Jackman and Weisz were secured, and filming went ahead.
Thank god / gods / Xibalba that the filmmakers persevered in their vision, because what they created is an utterly unique, utterly human story that will stand the test of time. The Fountain deserves to be mentioned alongside 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, and Solaris in the roll call of great philosophical science-fiction cinema. Like those other classics, The Fountain uses the trappings of sci-fi to express something deeper than any genre. The events of the film can be interpreted several different ways, with one or more of the storylines existing inside one or more of the characters' minds, but the final message is unmistakable.
Tom / Tommy / Tomás does find an answer to his quest, but it's not the one he expected. The final minutes of The Fountain are unlike anything you've experienced before. They will set your soul alight with the miracle of epiphany — that re-understanding of something you've always known intellectually but have never grasped emotionally in quite this way. The film leaves you stunned and grateful for its existence. You want to thank everyone involved for bringing such an unusual and thought-provoking story into being. If you haven't seen The Fountain, now is the time. Saying, “This film will change your life!” is a terrible cliché, but the implications of this beautifully told tale may actually alter the way you approach the business of living.
For Fans Of: Melancholia, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, Solaris
Why We Like It: Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Darren Aronofsky, surreal symbology