Darren Aronofsky doesn't make easy films.
I came to Requiem for a Dream late in the game, not seeing it on DVD until 2005, long after the critical response had faded. It was one of the most exciting, beautiful, horrifying films I had ever seen and remains possibly the best examination of the power of depression, longing, and addiction on ordinary lives in existence.
Likewise, I came to The Fountain a year late, although I was aware of the film. Apparently, The Fountain (originally entitled The Last Man) took Aronofsky over six years to make, with a full-on studio shut-down and incredible tenacity on his part to ensure the film was made at all. With my enthusiastic reception to Requiem, it surprises me that I didn’t try to catch The Fountain earlier. I can’t explain it.
Described as a science fiction fantasy about a man living three parallel lives searching for the cure to death in order to save his wife, The Fountain is an example of a film that simply cannot be boiled down so simply. In fact, after watching it, I was astonished by the fact that many critics complained that it was "hard to follow" and seemed to pan it simply because it refused to provide easy answers. I found it fairly straightforward and while playing a game of time dashes and parallel storytelling, at no point did I feel lost or confused.
On top of that, the film is visually stunning and Jackman is absolutely riveting as a man who refuses to view death as anything but an aberration, a disease, a wrong to be righted. His unrelenting search for the Biblical Tree of Life (as a Spanish conquistador), the cure to a tumor his wife is afflicted with (as a present day brain surgeon), and a dying star to give the dying Tree of Life rebirth (as a 26th century priest-like astronaut) has much more resonance than the simple regurgitation of the narrative line utilized by most critics of the film. The Fountain is about much more than the sum of its describable narrative parts. It is a meditation on death and love, our responses to death, how death shapes the lives we lead, and the fragility of our own human existence.
Here's where I stand on top of the soapbox and insult anyone who rushed to see Cheaper by the Dozen 2, Wild Hogs, either Garfield movie, and any version of Rush Hour. But then I stop myself and remind you that own a copy of Judge Dredd and saw Pirates of the Caribbean 3 this past weekend. Yeah — I'm a pretentious hypocrite, eh? I am frustrated that the most successful films tend to be the least deserving (you know, if you are an adult) but I also acknowledge that most people go to see entertainment because they need a break from their shitty, tedious lives and who wants to go see Wolverine struggle with the lofty concepts of eternal life, reincarnation, Mayan religious codes, and the death of all that they love when their eight-hour day only saw them actually work for three, the utility bills are on the second wave of insistence and will be turning into FINAL NOTICEs any day now, and that fucker Bush is still in office (or that fucker Moore has another film out)?
I'd submit that that is exactly the reason to see The Fountain. In the Age of Cynics, the man who shows genuine sentiment is mocked. Yes, this film has a sentimental quality to it but unlike, say, the Robin Williams’ goo-fest What Dreams May Come (also about death and a man desperate to save his wife from it), The Fountain has a core of genuineness and earnest belief that is beautiful and moving. Not only is it visually gorgeous and symbolic, not only are both Jackman and Weisz wonderful and believable and heartbreaking, not only is it a smart film for smart people, it examines questions that are, in the end, vastly more important than your job, the bills, or even the state of the world.
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Screenplay: Darren Aronofsky
Featuring: Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn