November 23, 2006

Movie Review: The Fountain

Darren Aronofsky first made a splash with the strange mathematical thriller Pi, he followed that with the bizarre anti-drug tale of Requiem for a Dream, now he makes a stab for the stars with The Fountain. This latest film is not an easy one to describe. If you put it all down on paper it does not seem to make sense, when you put it on the screen it makes even less sense. It is a film that plays the epic card, a tale that spans one thousand years in a curiously structured non-narrative that defies attempts to become unraveled.

The Fountain may be a work of supreme pretentiousness, or it could be a film that merely tries to stretch the boundaries of what film can do, or perhaps it is just a different take on the ever present tragedy of love and loss. However you choose to label it, you will have a reaction to it. Unfortunately, you will probably feel a lot like me, confused by all of the metaphorical meanderings.

At the center of the film is Hugh Jackman's Tomas. He plays three roles in one, a 16th century Spanish conquistador exploring the Mayan land for the Biblical Tree of Life under orders from Queen Isabella (Rachel Weisz), a present day scientist/surgeon who is searching for a cure to the tumor growing in his wife, Izzie's (Weisz) brain, and ultimately a cure for death, finally a 25th century astronaut (or so I have seen him described) drifting in space with a tree in a big bubble while being visited by the apparition of Izzie.

Aronofsky's film is full of thoughts of life and death and the efforts one will go to stave off the inevitability. It is a masterpiece of visuals, but I found the narrative to be a little to sporadic through the intermingling of time periods, and perhaps worse, the characters were awfully thin. There was a lot of attention payed to the visual elements, effects, and cinematography, while the characters are left to attempt to fight their way through to be heard.

Despite the thin characters, the film felt like a labor of love, a work that was the outpouring of a persons thoughts. As we all know, a person's thoughts and ideas are not always a coherent work, that is quite evident here as it has a distinct stream of conciousness feel. It is a movie that is not intended to tell a story so much as convey ideas, give you something to think about as you leave. It is an epic story of poetic beauty, a story that is a hard sell on the linear mind. I was confronted with feelings of loyalty, detemination, and most importantly love.

Hugh Jackman's performance was beautiful and moving. His Tomas is a tragic figure, a man destined to be alone despite all efforts. He must come face to face with mortality or else he will slip into despair over his inability to save another. The character may have been more of a sketch of a man rather than a fully fleshed out protaganist, but I could not help but feel for him. Jackman is totally commited to the performance, he brings the character to life, mimicking three dimensions in the two dimensional script. Watching him move through the film is quite moving.

Stumbling under the weight of the heady material, The Fountain doesn't fully succeed in delivering, but it is a valiant attempt at expanding the boundaries of what can be do with film. Aronofsky is a developing visionary who has an ever growing grasp on what you can do with film. There is a great divide between the story element and the visual element, usually you get one or the other, rarely do the two come together at the same time. Film is more than a literal art form, it is not required to tell a straight story, nor is it purely visual. The Fountain is an attempt at bringing those vastly different elements together in a throught provoking mass of celluloid.

I may not have understood the film entirely, but the theme of tragic love and fear of loss came through clear as a bell. It is a movie that has the potential to grow over time, the kind of movie that almost demands multiple viewings to scratch the surface and begin to peel away the layers that make the whole. If nothing else, there are some gorgeous visuals and a fantastic score to go along with Jackman's fine performance to become lost in.

Bottomline. I like this movie. Stunning to watch and it does have intelligence behind it. It will take awhile to digest, for good or bad. Darren Aronofsky is an interesting voice in the world of film. A meditative reflection on our state of being, watch closely, there is more than meets the eye.



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