Three incarnations of Tomas (Hugh Jackman) search through the ages for a way to 'cure' death. One as a Spanish conquistador in the New Spain, seeking the secret of immortality for his Queen (Rachel Weisz); another as contemporary medical scientist Tommy (Jackman), close to discovering a treatment for his dying wife (Weisz), who is writing her book The Fountain, which links ancient Mayan civilization and a distant nebula; the third as a lone space traveller in a small bubble which also contains the tree of life. In his tortuous and complex journeys, he is always haunted by the presence of the woman he loves.
Review by Louise Keller:
As baffling as it is intriguing, Darren Aronofsky's story about the search for eternal life is told in three narrative strands, which offer more questions than answers. He makes his point by a surreal and symbolic interpretation, weaving the three time-frames together like intricate knots in the twisted bark of an ancient tree. Or the tree of life. Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz embody the characters whose relationship is canvassed - through 16th Century Spain, the present day and in a Zen-like future among the stars.
Life, death and mortality are the key issues, and never have they seemed so complex, as Aronofsky jumbles the stories of a conquistador eager to serve his queen, a man distraught about his wife's impending death and the astronaut intent on preserving the embodiment of life on the tree that symbolises it. The two central performances are strong and much of the action draws us in, in tantalising fashion, despite our confusion. Ultimately, the film's frustration is just that. It's confusion and inability to seamlessly and convincingly marry its three disparate sections.
The present day love story between Jackman's scientist Tommy and his beautiful wife Izzi is the one that reverberates most potently. Tommy cannot face the fact that Izzi is going to die and is wracked with guilt as he tries to find a scientific breakthrough to save her life. She aches for him to accept the inevitable, to spend time with her and to find a way to embrace death as an act of creation. The Fountain is the title of the book she is writing - about the old Mayan civilization and how it maps out the secret to eternal life. By asking Tommy to write the final chapter, she is opening the door for his acceptance of life... and death. It's an immensely demanding role for Jackman in all his guises - both physically and emotionally - and once again he shows us he can do anything. Aronofsky uses tight close ups for much of the film, honing in on Jackman's expressive face - his furrowed brow, his desperate eyes. With his head shaved in his futuristic guise coupled with stark lighting, it is only the hint of his trademark, crooked smile that reminds us that we are indeed watching Jackman at work. Profoundly memorable... if not always for the right reasons.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
I don't pretend to fully understand Darren Aronofsky's latest film, to unravel its knots of time and character, or its oozing realities. But at its core there is the unmistakable essay on the way love is cheated by death, just as death is cheated by love. It could be argued that The Fountain is a sort of illogical extension to his earlier film, Pi (1998), in which a mathematician searches for the key number to unlock the universal patterns of nature.
We are tossed from an ancient Mayan temple to a modern medical research lab to a space bubble that looks more like a hallucination or trip - and in each setting Hugh Jackman's Tomas/Tommy is held back in his quest by forces outside his control. Making the story even more complex is the book Isabel is writing, The Fountain, which seems to imagine Tomas the conquistador and which she urges him to finish as she lies dying. Her insistence that he finish it is given emphasis as if it was really meaningful but why this is also escapes my rational processes. (Aronofsky - Aron Of Sky - seems aptly named, considering his other memorable film is Requiem for a Dream ... sky being the world of dreams and fantasies.)
Indeed, the film is probably better approached on a purely emotional level, which allows the romance to be our guide. And for all its twisting time frames and time collisions, this is where the two lead actors find their characters' most powerful voices. Jackman is hardly off screen and he is pushed to extremes of emotion, sometimes terrified, sometimes furious, sometimes loving. Rachel Weisz, whose vulnerability shifts from girlish to radiantly beautiful matches Jackman all the way. Aronofsky gives them both countless extreme close ups with which to convince us.
The Fountain revels in its technical accomplishments, which are legion; the ancient past and the distant future are imagined with brio, and the tree of life is created with exceptional flair. But all that can't overcome the irreconcilable trilogy of plots.
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FOUNTAIN, THE (M)
CAST: Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn, Mark Margolis, Stephen McHattie, Fernando Hernandez, Cliff Curtis, Sean Patrick Thomas, Donna Murphy
PRODUCER: Arnon Milchan, Iain Smith, Eric Watson
DIRECTOR: Darren Aronofsky
SCRIPT: Darren Aronofsky
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Matthew Libatique
EDITOR: Jay Rabinowitz
MUSIC: Clint Mansell
PRODUCTION DESIGN: James Chinlund
RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 25, 2007