Friday, December 1, 2006

The Fountain

“Finish it.”
“But I don’t know how it ends.”

The Fountain is hard to understand, difficult to discuss, and almost impossible to explain, but I’ll do my best to review the latest from writer/director Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream). In a year almost devoid of science fiction, here late in the year we get something dazzling.

The film takes place in three time periods. Two of the time periods are fictional, the Aztec jungles in 1500 involving a Conquistador (Hugh Jackman) and his search for the Tree of Life, and the floating space bubble in 2500 involving a bald monk (Jackman) nursing a dying tree as it floats into a dying star surrounded by a nebula.

The third of the story is in the present, or near future, as a doctor (Jackman) experiments on apes in a desperate obsession to save the life of his wife Izzi (Rachel Weisz) who is slowly dying from a brain tumor. Though the two other tales fit together more easily, it is this tale which is the heart and soul of the film.

The past and future tales take place in Izzi’s incomplete manuscript titled “The Fountain.” The film weaves these tales, reality and fantasy together, into a complex, head-scratching, and mind-bending tale so intense and beautiful you won’t be able to look away.

Usually when a film is met with bewilderment it’s sign of incompetence, but there are exceptions. The film’s themes layer themselves, each is a search to snatch life from the clutches of death, the eternal struggle for meaning, and the loss of youth and gradual decay of life over time. If answers are hard to come by, it’s because the questions it considers aren’t simple at all.

It’s not an easy film to follow for casual movie watchers, it demands the undivided attention of the audience, and even with that it still won’t reveal all it’s secrets. The film, one of a precious few nowadays, treats the audience as adults, even as intellectuals as it deals with complex ideas, fantasy, and science, weaving them all together in dizzying fashion.

The performances are outstanding as Jackman and Weisz provide the essential core to each of the three stories, each slightly different but remarkably the same. The supporting cast also includes some nice performances from Ellen Burstyn, Cliff Curtis. and Sean Patrick Thomas.

The three worlds in which these actors create are as fully realized as any one you’ll see in most films. So good are the set designs (created by set designers Frederic Amblard, Vincent Gingras-Liberali, Alex Touikan) and special effects (creadtec by fx coordinators Louis Craig, Mario Dumont) it’s impossible for me to pick a favorite of the three distinct worlds.

The negatives, though few, are troubling. One is the over-reliance on flashbacks that repeat over and over during the film, more than necessary without adding any new context or information with the viewing. There are moments in the film where it seems the film gets stuck in a loop. The second is the theft of the main set-up from a film of my childhood (The Never Ending Story), though this film is superior, in every single way, so I’m willing to forgive.

Aronofsky wanted to create something different, to return the Science Fiction genre to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey where futuristic time periods and settings are used to examine larger issues and the complex nature of humanity. It’s not quite on the same level of 2001, but then few films are, but I give Aronofsky credit for setting out to create art rather than film; he’s given us one of the year’s most memorable movies.

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