The Fountain Darren Aronofsky
One of the more ambitious and divisive movies to get a decent (albeit slashed in half from the years it was a Brad Pitt project) budget and Hollywood release, The Fountain is a visionary labor of love from writer/director Darren Aronofsky, the albatross that kept him off the map for years after Requiem for a Dream. While the urban nightmare fables Pi and the aforementioned Requiem for a Dream were about edgy young person glum/scary topics like obsession and addiction, The Fountain is a much more imaginative cosmic story of love and mortality.
It is one simple story, really, told thrice in distinct eras. Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz (Aronofsky's wife, for whom a palpable rapture emanates from behind the camera) are in love, but she will soon die, and he can't handle it so he immerses himself in mad crusades to prevent the inevitable. In the core, modern story (which still looks, in its odd way, just as alien as the more fantastic corresponding chapters) he is a doctor/scientist consuming himself in finding a cure for her brain cancer. In the past, he is a conquistador searching the Mayan empire for the mythical Tree of Life for her Queen Isabella. In the future, he floats through space in an orb housing a dying tree that seems to house her spirit, travelling to a star the Mayans placed their afterlife in.
The plotlines are woven together masterfully, not only in story progression and suggested links but in elaborate, circular visual parrallels. The pristine detail in art direction and cinematography (here lensed by Aronofsky regular Matthew Libatique, who also worked on Spike Lee's most recent features) is a peak in the already formidable Aronofsky canon. The future segments risk laughability, but are realized rapturously, using non-CGI microscopic photography to envision an outer space not seen before. The film is full of craft, passion, and fearlessness, portraying not a shred of hip irony in its heartfelt, emotional science fiction.
Aronofsky is a technical prodigy determined to tell simple stories about big things. There is some clumbsiness and naivete to The Fountain that has led some to dismiss it, but I find to be an admirable display of vulnerability from an artist who might sometimes appear to be a cold perfectionist. The unconventional storyline is never hard to follow, full of echoes that are, if anything, too obvious (the theme is stated over and over in dialog, so I don't buy this story as being impenetrable).
Like Quentin Tarantino without the acolytes, Aronofsky is a geekishly adored cult auteur with a clear bag of tricks that leave them vulnerable to criticism. Also like Tarantino, Aronofsky is the master of his toolset, the only one who really knows how to maximize his set of aesthetic devices to tell personal stories. The Fountain may not be a pillar of depth and complexity, but it succeeds boldly in feeling and clarity. As notorious flops go, there are few I've loved so much in recent years, and it will nourish a devoted if small cult for years. As naked a target as Aronofsky is to critics, I am eager to see his next film, The Wrestler, in which he is said to take a much different approach than the lavish technical mastery that peaked here.2 January, 2009 - 15:16 — George Booker