It’s very hard for me to completely describe my feelings of respect, love, and admiration for Darren Aronofsky’s uber-ambitious, boundary pushing The Fountain – it stands as a towering artistic achievement made by a filmmaker in total control of his vision. This is awe-inspiring cinema-as-magic, crafted by a director who was interested in stretching the limits of the form, delving deep into his wild, fertile imagination, and delivering something completely uncompromising and unique. The Fountain lives in the same cinemascape as 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Tree of Life, Enter the Void, Cloud Atlas, and Under the Skin, and as in those world-creating films, The Fountain has been hand-crafted by a filmmaker with an intensely personal vision, resulting in a work that is beyond thought provoking and visually astonishing at every turn. And I understand that MANY people will not share the same level of appreciation that I have for this movie; something this artistic and challenging and unique is bound to have its detractors. But I don’t care about any of that. Matthew Libatique’s cinematography on this film was transcendent; I’ll never completely understand how some if it was achieved. Originally intended to be a $70 million production with Brad Pitt in the lead role, the film was delayed, scrapped, then resurrected with Hugh Jackman in the hot-seat and a comparatively “low” budget of $35 million. Even though I wouldn’t change a frame of what Aronofsky delivered, I’ll always be curious to know what the larger, Pitt-led version would have been like. And it’s also been on my mind for a while now: Is there a “director’s cut” of The Fountain in Aronofsky’s back-pocket waiting to be unleashed at some point in the future?
The complex narrative is going to be extremely dense for some, and to be honest, I’d be lying if I said that I’ve pulled everything from the story, even after countless viewings. And that’s fine. I’m not sure I need or want to know all of the secrets of The Fountain. Something this heady and layered needs to be experienced more than once, and as with all of the best art, every time you view The Fountain it will mean something different. At least that’s how it’s worked for me. The Fountain is an intentional and surreal hodgepodge of various elements from multiple genres, inspirations, and topics: History, religion, science, science-fiction, nature, and above all else, love. Aronofsky devised his mind-bending tale over three story lines, each one featuring Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz. Both actors deliver some of their best work in The Fountain, providing rich, full-bodied performances that are somehow never overwhelmed by the film’s visual grandiosity. The film is set in three vastly different eras, in which Jackman and Weisz play different sets of characters who might possibly be the same two people in the grand scheme of the universe. In the present day, Jackman is a fevered scientist racing around the clock, trying to save his dying wife (Weisz) from cancer. A second track follows an ancient conquistador (Jackman) and his queen (Weisz), and the third bit is that of an advanced astronaut (Jackman) who ostensibly hallucinates (reincarnates?) his long-lost love (Weisz). Aronofsky and his phenomenal editor, Jay Rabinowitz, brilliantly match-cut and jump-cut all throughout the film, creating an All-is-One type sense of encompassment. Add in the legendary score from Clint Mansell, which soars to grace notes previously undiscovered, and the overall results are nothing short of hallucinatory and spellbinding.
I vividly remember seeing this film in the theater on opening weekend, in a massive, mostly empty auditorium, and the experience I had at the time was extraordinarily different than the ones I have had over the last few years. I had never seen anything like The Fountain before when I first encountered it, and even if it trades off of some other classic pieces of cinema, this is one of the most thrillingly original films that I can think of. As a piece of filmmaking, The Fountain feels like an organic creation, a living and breathing piece of art, something that reveals new sides and textures of its being each time you sit down to view it. And over the years, as my life has changed and as my cinematic tastes have progressed, the themes of The Fountain (love, death, life, the power of hope) have come into focus on an even stronger level. When you boil it down, The Fountain is an almost overwhelmingly sad film, filled with desperation, the longing for your soul mate, and our intrinsic desire to spend as much time with that one special person we love the most. The film makes you contemplate all that you value and hold dear to your heart, which is something that can’t be said for too many pieces of cinematic fiction. The surreal nature to the craftsmanship heightens each segment of this constantly over-lapping tale, which gives your mind a wonderful mental work-out. Aronofsky seemingly designed The Fountain to be something unique for every viewer, with each viewing holding the potential to teach you something new about yourself and the film in general. This is a cosmic and trippy ode to the very idea of love and the process of loving another human being, a work that allows for constant rediscovery and reinterpretation.