05 January 2008

The Fountain

The Fountain is a lot to take in.

Pardon my French, but Darren Aronofsky sure knows how to fuck with people's heads in an immediate way. He's a director with a distinct visual style that manages to capture emotions with striking, visceral imagery. I haven't seen the film that made his name, Pi, but I distinctly remember watching his lyrical ode to self-destructive addiction, Requiem for a Dream. If you haven't seen it, let me summarize my initial feelings once the credits roll: "Fuck me." You will want to go into the shower, curl into a ball, and cry like a starving, sick little African child after watching Requiem. Yes, that is a recommendation. And again, pardon my French.

Inside of a minute, Aronofsky establishes The Fountain's theme of circles in about ten different ways. The circular head piece of a staff, the crown of a queen, a crest in the floor. Circles, circles everywhere. He's not shy about letting the audience know that this film isn't a one-way trip. There's the past story about the Spanish conquistador looking for the Tree of Life, the present-day story of a doctor looking to cure his wife's cancer, and the future story of the strangest damn astronaut you ever did see using the Tree of Life as a spaceship to reach a nebula of life-giving stars. And it's not even that simple. Each story affects the others in direct and indirect ways, some you see coming, others completely unexpected. Aronofsky and his co-writer, Ari Handel, maintain an emotional and symbolic logic to drive the story. It doesn't make sense, per se, but it maybe kinda sorta sometimes does.

While there are distinct parallels between the future, past, and present stories, the present day vignette could have existed as a film all by itself, especially since the "past" story is actually a novel-in-progress in the present. What I especially appreciated is how tapped in it is to raw, strong emotions. It's involving and heartrending, with Thomas's desperation consuming him. His drive to cure his wife is what keeps him at work and away from her. His desperation is palpable. I don't know why Hugh Jackman isn't a bigger star than he is, because he's terrific. (Plus, his name is Hugh Jackman. He can go up to girls and say in his exotic Aussie accent, "Hey, baby, I've got a Hugh Jackman, if you know what I'm saying. Don't Hugh wanna be Jackman'ed?" By the way, why do future sci-fi protagonists always speak American English? Why not the Queen's English or Aussie? Or, God forbid, something other than English?)

Where The Fountain leaves you wanting more is, unfortunately, the 3rd act. It's something in the vein of 2001: A Space Odyssey, an ending that makes sweeping, bold thematic gestures without giving the ripe emotional undercurrent of the preceding scenes. It's not a cheat or a trick, but it's not wholly satisfying either. I was mostly perplexed, but not to the point of not caring. The film sticks with you because it's a mind bender with an emotional core. It leaves the job of connecting the dots to the audience, and in turn, has you thinking about the things people pursue, the ceaseless drive towards finishing, and the links between the end of something and the beginning of something else.

It's like finding an old puzzle and putting it together, only to realize you're missing quite a few pieces. The big picture is there, you can see it, but it'd be nice to have it all down. And maybe after repeat viewings the other pieces will emerge. The good news is I want to find them.

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