A film which is 484 on Empire’s list of 500 Greatest Films you’d think, even for it’s low rank, might have achieved more widespread acknowledgement, but having bought Darren Aronofsky’s 2006 sci-fi adventure for £3 this weekend, no-one I’ve spoken to seems to have heard of it. To be fair neither had I, but for £3 I thought it was worth a watch.
Originally, The Fountain started filming in 2002 with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett on a huge studio funded budget, which was slashed and the project abandoned when Aronofsky wouldn’t incorporate Pitt’s script amends. Production started again in 2005 with Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz as the leads and a severely reduced budget – all of which promoted a creative flair for effects without (refreshingly) the need for CGI.
The Fountain follows three interwoven narratives that take place in the age of conquistadors, the modern-day period, and the far future. Jackman’s character is a futuristic astronaut, a modern day research scientist and Spanish conquistador, who journey’s through time attempting to stop the fate of his beloved “Izzi”. The film discusses themes of life, rebirth, mortality and our eternal relationships.
Aronofsky uses a quote from Genesis to start The Fountain making clear reference to the two trees in the garden of Eden; the tree of knowledge and the tree of life. The latter was hidden and protected after the fall of man. The fall of man separated man from maker with “death” ultimately being what makes us unique as only we can experience it and it is the force which re-unites us with our maker.
Jackman’s character as the conquistador literally seeks the Tree of Life out of the Guatemalan Mayan pyramids and jungles. As a scientist, he desperately seeks the scientific knowledge to “cure” death, treating it like “any other disease”. It’s only as the yoga-practising, futuristic astronaut, haunted by visions of Izzi, that he accepts that death is the only way to be re-united with both maker and his eternal love. Ironically as an astronaut he travels with a tree, similar to the Tree of Life in the Mayan temple, which dies moments before he chooses his fatal ending.
There is a precise and calculated use of repeated imagery throughout The Fountain: the stars hanging in the distance space behind the orb-space craft, the hanging candles of the Spanish palace and the astrological research Izzi delights in at the lab all show a hidden agenda between showing the relationship between light and dark: life and death. The use of light is also part of the physical presence of the actors with Jackman existing in the shadows and Izzi highlighted and pinpointed by shards of light (in the snow filled doorway, in the museum sunbeam, in the palace throne) to further separate the two lovers.
The film ends as Xibalba (the dying star of the Mayan underworld) collapses and supernovas destroying and scattering the astronaut’s body into the dead tree rejuvenating it. In the present day the scientist is seen planting a tree seed over Izzi's grave, symbolising his acceptance of his wife's death. At the same moment, in the sky above, we see Xibalba's supernova event.
The Fountain is difficult to get into, this is coming from someone who loves films which don’t offer easy or obvious narratives, so you can understand my point. The narrative feels too jarred to seamlessly interweave the three stories. The use of imagery and effects is impressive, especially for the creative alternatives to CGI, but the cinematography of the film is a bit overbearing at times.
I get that we are steadily taken from darkness into light, it’s just that that dichotomy is too broken by having to switch from the dark and light parts of the story. The visual style obviously has to be sacrificed in order to interweave the narrative, otherwise it would be very boring, predictable and linear. It’s just the conquistador’s Mayan adventure is sooo dark and the supernova moment with the astronaut is sooo light that’s it’s unpleasantly obvious.
I love the idea that Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchet were almost the lead roles, it seems impossible they would have been appropriate after watching Jackman and Weisz. Blanchet I think would have been too ethereal and mysterious (too tempting to slip into ‘Galadrial’ I suspect) for the role of Izzi - this would have made it so much harder to relate to her as real, dying person. Pitt, even though I think he’s a credible actor, wouldn’t have managed the broody, dark persona that Jackman seems to so easily create. Not that Jackman turns into a pseudo Wolverine, far from it, there are glimmers of genuine vulnerability and innocence in his performance, I think it’s more his onscreen, physically presence is far more suited than Pitt’s.
Best scene: Hugh Jackman entering Xibalba and his body pouring away like sand, it reminded me of ‘Sunshine’ and is a mind-etchingly vibrant moment in the film.
Score: 3.5 out of 5, very interesting to try and work it out and lots of great acting, just not sure I got the point of it without the help of the Internet.