The Fountain

Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain (IMDB) depicts a love story between Tom (Hugh Jackman) and Izzy (Rachel Weisz) that spans centuries, leaping, often in the span of a single cut, from 16th century Spain to the present and, ultimately, hundreds of years into the future. In the 16th century, Izzy is Queen Isabel, beseiged by the Inquisition, and Tom is Tomas, a conquistador commissioned to find the Tree of Life, which is believed to be hidden in the midst of a Mayan jungle, or as Isabel casually describes it, “New Spain.” In the early twenty-first century, Tom desperately seeks a cure for a brain tumor that threatens Izzy’s life, while in the distant future (I believe in the 27th century, but who’s counting?), Tom waits sadly beside a tree, which may or may not hold the spirit of his beloved Izzy.

The film itself is rather ambitious, seeking to meld these mystical ideas with cinematic narrative (or as AO Scott suggests, to “subvert the essentially sequential nature of film”). And, in fact, I was reminded in places of filmmakers such as Alain Resnais or Chris Marker; however, The Fountain never quite works through the questions of time, space, memory, and mortality that it introduces. In different hands, The Fountain might have pulled off what J. Hoberman aptly describes as its “pulpy mysticism.” Instead, The Fountain came across as utterly tedious, its primary idaes established within the first few minutes of the film.

There are several sequences in the film that are visually stunning, and the music, performed primarily by the Kronos Quartet and Mogwai aptly conveys the film’s ethereal tone, but for the most part, the attention to atmosphere simply served as a reminder that there really wasn’t much going on in the film to begin with. I think this emptiness may have been due to the fact that Tom and Izzy seemed like little more than types, and I never had any sense that these two characters had endured hundreds of years together as a couple. As Scott points out, “It’s hard to sympathize with their hunger to overcome death, since neither one is credibly alive to begin with.” Of course, given that the film felt like an eternity when I was watching it, perhaps it was doing something interesting with time after all.

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