Cinematic Heaven: The Fountain

The Fountain | Darren Aronofsky, 2006

Looking at the box office numbers for Inception, which I still have not seen (damn you financial woes!), and reading about how audiences are supposed to be reacting to it because they are craving originality, I wondered if Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain, another mind-bending and original sci-fi movie from WB would have fared better at the box office and with critics today. Sure, it only came out four years ago, but the time change. And if it had been produced later, would Aronofsky have been given once again the 100 million+ dollars that he was originally supposed to have? I guess we’ll never know, and the fact remains that it split critics right down the middle and that it was a financial and awards flop due to poor marketing, which made people’s expectations different. But also, the fact remains that it is one of the best and most beautiful movies to come out in the last few years that will continue to be talked about in 20 years

The Fountain takes place in three periods of time. One of them is during the Spanish inquisition where a young conquistador named Tomas (Hugh Jackman) will do anything to save his queen (Rachel Weiz) and his country. This devotion leads him to take a trip to the New World in search of the Tree of Life so that he and his queen could have eternal life. This whole story is part of a book being written by Izzy, played also by Weiz. She is dying of cancer, and her husband, Tommy (Jackman again) is a scientist who is trying hard to find a cure for his wife’s disease. One day, he gets the idea of combining a compound that they have been using with a sample of bark from a tree that they brought back from South America. The results are miraculous but it’s still not quite what he wanted, so now the race against time is on.  The third period is the future as a bald man (Jackman yet again) travels in a bubble accompanied by a tree towards a nebula before it explodes.

The plot that I described above is what makes most people that hate it feel that way. Just reading it makes you feel as if it is a simple tale, but the way it is presented makes things complicated. All three stories are interwoven, and we don’t know which story is actually happening. We know for a fact that the part set in Spain is not real because it is Izzie’s book. And the part with the man in the bubble could somehow be the conclusion to the story. But why would he just suddenly appear in the story with one chapter to go? And if he was part of the story, why does he remember fragments of Tommy’s and Izzie’s life?

But in the grand scheme of things, it does not matter because that is not the focus of the movie. The movie is about how love is eternal and about how humans have and will always try to look for something that will give them eternal life. But then, why would you want that if you can’t be with the person that you love the most?

Even though not everyone will look at it that way, in my opinion everything is told beautifully. This is of course thanks to Darren Aronofsky. He had to sacrifice part of his original vision in order to get his story out to the world, and yet he managed to make something powerful, heartbreaking, and mind blowing with less than half the budget of his original vision for this story. But just by looking at it you wouldn’t think this is a relatively low budget movie.

The visual effects here are outstanding and I would put them up there with those in Avatar, Lord of the Rings, and Speed Racer as some of the best of the decade. Matthew Libatique’s cinematography is very stylish but it fits the story perfectly. It is even breathtaking from time to time. The art direction is the only thing that seemed to suffer due to the low budget, but if you think about it, the only times when the sets were more showy (the past and the future) they fit perfectly due to the fact that part is set in the mind of a reader, and the other is the future, and we don’t know what it is going to be like. The editing makes it seem fast paced even though not much goes on in terms of action.

And then there is Clint Mansell’s score. If there is one thing that I should thank The Fountain for is for showing me how a score affects the movie. Sure, we have all been seen the effect that music has on a movie. I mean, would Rocky be the same without the rousing music during the character’s training montages? Would Jaws be the same without John William’s haunting theme?  Hell no! But with the fountain I truly noticed the music and how it can like another actor on the screen, trying to get at your emotions. That is the case in this movie. Mansell’s music is so beautiful and it perfectly complements the beauty on screen, and it is also great as a stand-alone piece of music. It is easily my favorite score of all time. It’s a shame that AMPAS did not see it fit to reward him with at least a nomination when the winner that year was not original at all. Oh well.

Speaking of beauty, I have not mentioned the actors. Hugh Jackman gives what is still to date his best performance. Before I watched this I had no idea he could put so much emotion into one performance but he managed to do it. Rachel Weiz is beautiful and full of grace as the woman who has to learn to face death while having to encourage her beloved to not lose faith. And then there is the always-reliable Ellen Burstyn. Originally, Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett were set to play the roles of Tom and Izzy. While I can definitely see Blanchett doing Weiz’s part because she is awesome and can do pretty much everything, I have a hard time seeing Pitt giving a performance as powerful and Jackman’s. Sure, he could do an emotional performance, but I can’t see him in this role.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but thank goodness that Aronofsky had to reboot this movie. I can’t imagine this movie feeling as personal and intimate as it does if he had had the 100 million + dollars to make it more of a visual spectacle. Also, we would not have gotten the great performances from Jackman and Weiz. Hopefully as time passes this movie will get the audience it deserved from the get-go and it will be considered the classic that it already is.

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