Somehow Darren Aronofsky has become the next big hit in Hollywood. Along with JJ Abrams (his status I just have to question, after MI3) and Christopher Nolan (ok, this guy knows what he’s doing) Darren is hailed as this decade’s Tarantino. Now I understand that a formulaic, stagnant world of Hollywood needs a regular shake, a revolution. So when a new kid on the block directs something unusual, he’s naturally going to be labeled as the next big thing. But I just didn’t get why Darren is such an outstanding director. I could see his unique way of writing (his earlier hits, Pi and Requiem for a Dream were also written by him), but as a filmmaker, a genius behind the camera – I didn’t get it. Until The Fountain, of course. While Pi was a bit unusual throughout, Requiem for a Dream had a weird plot and soundtrack, but not direction. It was good, but not excellent. Compelling but not exceptional. With The Fountain, I think Darren has reached a new level of storytelling – a unique plot, amazing score and focused, concise visual mastery of the story. This is a simple, straightforward movie told in a fantastic and memorable way.
The simplicity of the film is staggering – only two major characters (Rachel Weisz and Hugh Jackman), a handful of support actors – among them Ellen Burstyn and Ethan Suplee and all the time in the world. Literally. The movie has three parallel plots, mirroring each other in medieval times, today’s world and distant future. The tag line is “what if you could live forever?”, and that thought ties in all three plots. And here’s the mark of a good movie – each of these worlds can easily make for a compelling, engaging film – there’s enough background, enough character development and plot to turn them into a 90 minute feature. And yet, all three reside in a normal movie space, without undermining each other. Sometimes The Fountain feels like a play, with a rotating stage where the same group of people transform into a completely different set in seconds and continue their adventures. Of course, no play can ever be quite so beautiful – the sets and visual effects are astounding. I might have dreamed something like that, but I’m not sure anymore after seeing the film.
Another mark of a good film – its mass appeal without dumbing down of characters or story. The Fountain is essentially a love story, about a man trying to save the life of his wife, in face of phenomenal obstacles. In the middle ages, Hugh Jackman plays a conquistador, searching for a legendary tree of life in the Amazon, to bring a possible cure for plague back to Spain (for the queen he loves). In modern days, he’s a surgeon, working on a cancer cure for his dying wife. In the future, he’s a space traveler, moving among the stars in search of eternal life. The tree of life – object of his constant search is present in all three plots – in fantastic ways. It, too is a main character of the film, and the extent to which it was incorporated into the plot shows just how much can be gained by giving an inanimate object its own motivation, reason for existence. Yes, the tree has motivations, and it has a life of its own. I can’t explain it further – it would be a disservice to the plot.
The Fountain is a slow-paced, contemplative film. Anyone expecting the manic editing and quick shots of Aronofsky’s earlier films will be disappointed. But as a mature, well-balanced film, it shows that a young kid with a few camera tricks, good ear for memorable music and good feel for editing can sit back and deliver a solid, appealing, long-lasting movie experience (are you listening, Kevin Smith?) I walked out of a theater with a slight disappointment (I expected “Pi”, only with love, and got something very different), but the movie kept growing on me for days afterward. Its universal message about love and quest for eternal life lasted for a long time. Credit to the stars – Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz should also be “upgraded” to the group of actors who can tell a story just with their eyes alone – and to the director Darren Aronofsky. I’m still hoping I’ll see his frantic side in later projects – perhaps an action flick or a horror feature. But The Fountain – as unusual as it is – is an incredible voyage. Actually, three voyages for the price of one.
And while it’s not a typical date movie – go see it with a person you love. And get those napkins ready. As for just how memorable this movie is – ask yourself if you ever saw space travel quite like that. In fact, after seeing the movie, ask yourself if you ever saw space quite like that. Perhaps in a dream, but you won’t be so sure.