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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

The Fountain (review)

Head Trip Through Time

So I hear that if you play Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon while you’re watching The Fountain and you start it exactly at the moment when the conquistador Hugh Jackman gets stabbed in the gut by the Mayan priest/warrior near the beginning of the movie, then it’s like a totally awesome and mindblowing experience.

Or maybe it’s the Moody Blues’ Days of Future Passed
When I saw The Fountain last year at a press screening, I pegged it as one of the trippier movies ever made, and maybe a new 2001: A Space Odyssey as far as freaking you out and making you wonder what the hell it’s all about, or wonder at all the things it can be about in all its many varied interpretations. But I could never get my head around it enough to actually write a review. I couldn’t figure out if I liked it or not. I suppose if lodging itself in your brain and hanging on like a rabid dog can be said to be a measure of success for a work of art, then The Fountain succeeds. But though the film intrigues me intellectually, it doesn’t make me feel anything: and movies for me are primarily emotional experiences. By that measure, The Fountain fails for me. But it’s one of the more interesting cinematic failures I’ve ever seen.

Filmmaker Darren Aronofsky — whose low-budget 1998 film Pi is similarly brilliant and frustrating — gets huge bonus points from me for being so damn audacious: for blending past, present, and future into one everpresent now; for recognizing the spiritual in the scientific, and vice versa; for daring to make a movie that is both so explicitly big-big-picture about the nature of human existence and so intimate as a love affair. The parallel tales of conquistador Hugh Jackman (The Prestige, Happy Feet), servant to Queen Isabella five hundred years ago, and space-travelling Hugh Jackman, servant to his own transcendent mysticism five hundred years in the future… are they but imaginary fancies sprung from the novel being written by the cancer-stricken wife of today’s cancer-researcher Hugh Jackman? Or are they “real”? It’s thrilling to think they could be both at the same time.

I was ambivalent about recommending the film while it was in theaters, but now that it’s available on DVD (or will be tomorrow) it’s definitely a must-see. See it for the wonderfully palpable chemistry between Jackman and Rachel Weisz (Eragon, The Constant Gardener) as Queen Isabella and as the contemporary author and cancer victim. See it for the beautiful organic imagery of trees and neurons and nebulas that swell with golden light and merge to become a glorious metaphor for the, you know, fundamental interconnectness of all things. And see it so you can tell me, maybe, just what the hell it’s all about, anyway.

[buy at Amazon]

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MPAA: rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of violent action, some sensuality and language

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
  • JoshDM

    A re-review… interesting. B-)

    Since we’re getting the refresher course here, how about some “Munich” / “Sword of Gideon” action?

  • MaryAnn

    Well, not really a re-review, because I never reviewed it before.

    I’d love to review every movie ever made. But I need to sleep sometime.

  • I was a bit frustrated with this movie when it came out last year… I guess I fell for some of the “it’s the new 2001” hype, but part of the problem for me was that I kept comparing it to Pi and Requiem for a Dream, which I think are both brilliant movies. When I actually got to see The Fountain, I left the theatre with a sort of “huh” feeling.

    That said, the imagery is brilliant, and the story (is it real?) is pretty cool… is future Tom the same person as present Tom? (I think we can rule out that past Tom is either of them, since the movie makes it fairly clear about the nature of his immortality.) And the soundtrack is pretty cool, too… Clint Mansell and Kronos Quartet are definitely worth listening to.

    I will be picking up the HD-DVD tomorrow… because I have the feeling that my “huh” reaction will change into more of a “cool” reaction the more I watch the movie and understand its subtlety.

  • MBI

    It’s definitely about enjoying the moments you have with the ones you love and not ruining yourself yearning for what you haven’t got.

  • MBI

    That said, I feel like this is an insanely heartfelt movie. I’m not sure I “get” it, per se, and I feel that, like with “Mulholland Dr.” and “Donnie Darko,” a literal explanation is neither necessary nor especially desirable. I thought there was emotion lodged in every pore of this movie, and in that regard it’s very distinct from “2001: A Space Odyssey.” I see heartbreak in Jackman’s struggle for something he won’t ever have.

  • MaryAnn

    I *see* that heartbreak, too, but I don’t feel it. And that’s no reflection on Jackman. It’s a reflection on Aronofsky. :->

  • Let’s just all be thankful that we ended up with Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz and not Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett (the original Tom and Izzi before the movie’s budget got scaled back). Cate Blanchett’s a great actress, but any time Brad Pitt has to cry on screen (Se7en, Troy), it looks like he’s trying to pass a kidney stone.

  • Jennifer

    I love this movie absurdly, but I should see it a second time before I try and explain why. If favorite movies comes up as a topic, I just say it’s because of the passionate agnostism, but I can do better than that.

  • DiscoSanchez

    I think, PI excluded, that Aronofsky is a very emotional filmmaker. Apparently some people must be emotionally distanced by his style, but I find myself emotionally drawn to his work to the point that they’re more rewatchable than most other films, even better films. The Fountain wasn’t the best movie of the year by any means but I saw it more when it was in theaters than any other film, and each time the movie improved substantially. My latest home viewing was admittedly a little more lukewarm, but I could blame that on the poor transfer and less than desirable environs.

    I don’t really find 90% of the film that hard to follow. I suspect that the future sequences are real, Tom having discovered the secret to immortality (note the tattooing). The climactic sequence’s details are hazy, deliberately, and I’m still a little confused about the scene where Future Tom appears before the Mayan priest, but I get the general gist of it, that searching for immortality will lead us to neglecting the more important things in life like spending more time with your dying wife while she’s still alive. The exploding star’s also a bit difficult to understand, but there’s some kind of transcendant death-is-life type deal going on.

  • MBI

    I just realized MaryAnn’s general sentiment towards this film pretty much sums up my feelings towards that same year’s “The Science of Sleep,” another insanely heartfelt movie, one that didn’t do much for me, I’m afraid.

  • Cthulhu

    I watched it on DVD last night after reading the graphic novel a couple of years ago.

    The bonus the graphic novel has is that it’s easier to re-read the various subsections over and over again to get your head around the three seperate story lines.

    It also made it easier to explain what was going on to Mrs Cthulhu when she got lost!! LOL

  • Lugh

    Here is the thing about the Fountain. Unless you understand the Spiritual Self, this movie will be complete nonsense to you. This movie is made for those who have looked beyond the physical programing, into the worlds below

  • Lugh (Sun May 31 09, 9:14PM):

    Here is the thing about the Fountain. Unless you understand the Spiritual Self, this movie will be complete nonsense to you. This movie is made for those who have looked beyond the physical programing, into the worlds below

    Oh, I hope not. The Fountain was easily the best film of 2006 and not for any reason that has to do with spirituality of any kind.

    You’re imprinting your worldview onto it, which is fine if that’s how you like to do things — but it is ridiculous to assert that folks who don’t share in whatever that worldview is won’t understand this movie.

    In a word: no!

  • Jan Willem

    I thought the film sensitively showed how the imagination (spiritual, religious or other) can be used to cope with grief and loss, much like P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia. Also I’m inclined to consider any attempt at a convoluted SF interpretation as a sign of emotional immaturity. But that’s just me.

  • Kenny

    Ok… I loved the Fountain.. but it’s got me a wee bit confused.

    So Jackman’s modern day character is the same man who travels space in the future… I get that. He has used the tree of life to become immortal. In addition, the seed he planted over his wife’s grave has become the tree in his bubble ship… and has in some way come to hold the essence of his wife, but the tree is old and dying, and he must get it to the nebula where the dying star will kill him and make the tree bloom once again…

    But what is the connection to the Conquistador Jackman and his queen? They are not the same people… or am I missing something?

  • No, no, no.

    Present Jackman does not equal future Jackman.

    The Conquistador Jackman is the one written about by his wife in her book. However, because of her impending death, she is unable to complete the last chapter–she leaves that for her husband to write. “Future Jackman” is that last chapter, written by present Jackman.

    The whole point of future Jackman is that it represents present Jackman’s struggle to accept the fact that his wife is going to die. The scene where future Jackman reaches Xibalba and united with conquistador Jackman is representative of that final acceptance.

  • Kenny

    Hmm.. I think you’re right about everything except present and future Jackman’s connection.

    They are blatantly the same man. He bears the ring tattoo in place of the wedding ring he lost in the sink… he eats the bark of the tree (presumably to stay alive) that he planted over his dead wife’s grave… he said he was going to try to cure death and we know he had access to the tree… they are the same man, unquestionably.

    I feel that the final scene was his acceptance that in order for his wife, in the form of the tree, to live again… he would have to sacrifice his own life when Xibalba finally exploded.

  • “Future Jackman” is present Jackman only in the sense that present Jackman is writing the story of future Jackman. But nothing that happens in the “future Jackman” tale happens in reality–it’s just present Jackman’s ending to his wife’s tale.

  • Kenny

    Hmmmm… I don’t think I saw any evidence to say that future Jackman was a literary construct… I rather thought “write the last chapter” was a metaphor and that the end of the story was his physical journey to the nebula.

    What your saying could be true… but there is nothing to indicate the truth of it either way… not unless I missed something.

  • Kenny,

    If you look carefully, you will see present Jackman writing in the book…

  • jack

    Think it is him gone crazy. unable to come to terms with her death. rubbish film though, but thats just my taste

  • xandria

    To each his own ~ personally, I quite fancied the film.. I thought Isabella was a beautifully written character, both royal and vulnerable, all the while watching the conquistador on a hard journey to sacrificing his ego, reaching beyond the edge into second birth.. I felt he captured a spectrum of elements in a beautiful and breathtaking way ~ i appreciated the artwork :_)

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