The Fountain

Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 
The Fountain
Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 

As Dr. Tommy Creo (Hugh Jackman, "The Prestige") races to find a cure for the brain tumor that is killing his wife, Izzi (Rachel Weisz, "The Constant Gardener"), she is writing a book about a Spanish conquistador's quest to save his queen from the Inquisition by locating the Tree of Life in the Mayan Jungles.  Izzi has titled her book "The Fountain."

Writer/director Darren Aronofsky ("Pi," "Requiem for a Dream") has suffered for his art with "The Fountain," a movie originally slated to star Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett with a budget more than twice its present size.  The pain has paid off.  This magical, mystical and moving film is stunning to look at and Hugh Jackman's performance is one of the best of the year.

Although the film has been described as a man trying to save a woman in three different centuries, that man is actually the same man in one story.  We first meet the fictionalized Tomas in 16th century South America as the lone and greatly outnumbered conquistador about to charge a menacing group of spear hefting Mayans. Once he is battling within their midst, they fall upon him and lift him up, depositing him at the base of the temple steps.  This sequence is dark and the steep ascent towards the temple is breathtakingly visualized.

Aronofsky and his editor Jay Rabinowitz ("Requiem for a Dream," "Broken Flowers") flit among their five-hundred year separated story strands, repeating dialogue ('finish it') and filling in detail building to a glorious crescendo.  Tommy floats in a bubble-like spacecraft towards Xibalba, the golden nebula wrapped around a dying star that Izzi had shown him in wonder at the Mayans' ability to pick a dying star as the source of rebirth. With Tommy is a tree - the tree of life that holds Izzi's spirit and which both nourishes him on his voyage and provides the ink for him to write.  Five hundred years earlier his wife had asked him to complete her novel, a metaphor for their relationship and her loving attempt to make her husband understand that death is the beginning of life ('the road to awe is death').  Even the Grand Inquisitor Silecio (Stephen McHattie, "A History of Violence") who threatens her story's Queen Isabella remarks that 'the body is the prison of the soul.'

Rachel Weisz, the director's fiancee, has never looked lovelier and she projects an aura of calm grace.  While her character is more symbolic than Jackman's, Weisz projects many different emotions in quiet facial closeup.  Izzi is Tommy's spiritual muse.  Jackman has never been better on film than he is here, playing an obsessed scientist, so frantic to save his wife he fails to address her current needs.  He conveys her 16th century imagining of him with a fierce and loyal determination rooted in the brutality of the time and in his 21st century incarnation there is a Zen-like quality (Jackman floats in the lotus position), more a quest for enlightenment than a frenzied race to beat death (and his own grief).

Clearly inspired by "Solaris" and "2001," Aronofsky's great love story is a more organic pondering of the meaning of life, rooted in the past and present as much as the future.  The film is beautifully realized (production design by James Chinlund, "Requiem for a Dream," "The 25th Hour"), although its limited budget is reflected in a series of dark, narrow corridors which lead to splendid vistas (the temple, a castle, a modern surgery, the queen's thrown). Darkness is associated with Jackman's character, brightness with Weisz's, whose Izzi is always seen in an off white cap in a snowy landscape and whose queen has any facial flaw washed away by a flood of light (cinematography by Matthew Libatique, "Requiem for a Dream," "Inside Man").  The fountain of youth is interchangeable here with the tree of life which is reflected in the Jacobean patterns seen in the scrollwork of Isabella's court.  Tom's wedding ring, which he loses in pre-op and tattoos back on, his self-inflicted pain mirroring the Inquisitor's self-flagellation, encircles not only his finger, but continues up his entire arm, like the rings of that tree or Xibalba's gas clouds.  Those images exist in the earrings Izzi wears right before her collapse (costume Design by Renée April, "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind") and the circles of a Mayan dagger that act as a map to both earth and the heavens.  Original Music by Clint Mansell ("Requiem for a Dream," "Trust the Man") sets a plaintive but peaceful mood in a string piece performed by Kronos Quartet.

"The Fountain" climaxes with an amazing array of images in all three centuries, like a warp speed trip towards the cosmos.  Flowers burst forth from a man's body and a ship is consumed by a dying star, but in the end a decision reversed pleads life's pleasures in something as simple as a walk in the snow.


Darren Aronofsky hits a home run for his third at bat with his time-skipping trilogy that tells three stories – a Spanish conquistador searching the New World for the tree of life; a modern day research doctor who is frantically searching for a cure for the cancer that is killing his wife; and, a 26th Century astronaut also searching the universe for the tree of life. Each story stars Hugh Jackman as the three Toms (Tomas, Tom, Thomas, respectively) with Rachel Weisz as his beloved in each.

This is Aronofky’s best, most complex work to date. He crafts a beautifully rendered epic romance that views death as an act of creation where the world evolves because of those lives lost.

Hugh Jackman is tested in his multiple roles – all the same man (named Tom) but different in each sequence – and equates himself well. In each performance he gives dimension to the characters and a unique spin on each one.

Rachel Weisz is Jackman’s object of affection and passion, thus more symbol than substance. Lens artist Matthew Libatique captures Weisz with an ethereal, flawless beauty that enhances the fervor of the several Toms’ search for eternal life.

Production design is breathtaking with the future story handle with psychedelic style. There is so much going on onscreen that I was put in mind the works of avante garde director Peter Greenaway, such as Prospero’s Book.”

This is a terrifically stylish film that warrants multiple viewings to catch the director’s subtleties of story and multi-layered meaning.

I give it an A-.
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