Sean Patrick Thomas
Sci-Fi, Drama, Romance, Action
Trivia Instead of using CGI, Aronofsky chose to do the special effects for the film by using micro-photography of chemical reactions on tiny petri dishes. He has said that CGI would take away from the timelessness of the film and that he wants the film to stand the test of time.
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The Fountain (2006)
1st Nov 06
Spanning over one thousand years, and three parallel stories, The Fountain is a story of love, death, spirituality, and the fragility of our existence in this world.
Due to the attempt to not give away any spoilers, there might be a vagueness when writing about the story. Sorry.
Let me explain where I am coming from in this review. I saw Darren Aronofsky’s second film, Requiem For A Dream and was blown away by the energy and style of filmmaking. And man, was it dark? It was so dark, I felt like I needed to detox just from watching it. So then I saw Pi, his first film, and I wished I had seen it before Requiem as he used similar techniques and he had kind of done them better in Requiem. If I had seen Pi first then, I am sure it would have had the same effect on me as Requiem. So I am a big fan of Aronofsky as a filmmaker, and he has even inspired some scenes that I have both written and filmed.
So onto Darren Aronofsky’s third film, The Fountain. Apparently he had tried to make this film before with Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt but it fell apart due to those creative differences that often get someone fired or they move on. Pitt moved on to do Troy and Aronofsky set about making his film with Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz and with half the money ($35million). So the creative differences pushed the film to a much better place for me as I find Hugh and Rachel far more watchable than Brad and Cate.
Before seeing the film, I knew of the plot which is based around Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz playing three different characters in 1500AD, 2006AD and 2500AD (although technically, Rachel Weisz plays only two different characters) where these stories are linked with the theme of love. Well that had me hooked and with Aronofsky at the helm with his visual flair, I knew this would be a film to see.
And, wow, this film is indeed stunning to look at. There are some beautifully crafted set pieces and the lighting and production design work extremely well together. The story/stories are simple stories and centre around the search for immortality. This is where I will stop writing about the story, as much of it is open to interpretation and subjectivity. One of the people I saw it with, had a different understanding of the future story from me. The metaphors are quite clear, but sometimes what is real and what is not real may not be clear to everyone. My own interpretation is that two of the three stories are real. (This is difficult to write without giving away any spoilers!)
So does The Fountain satisfy my expectations? YES! … and no.
My main criticism is that amidst the beautiful film, there is ‘something’ missing and it is this ‘something’ that prevents it from being a great film. It could be the fact that Aronofsky works very hard at making the film look good rather than emotionally engaging the audience. Both Pi and Requiem For A Dream contain subject matter than match his particular style perfectly (mathematical obsession and drug addiction), and while I am sure Aronofsky would love to do a science fiction story, the film seems unsure of when to emotionally connect. It might be the editing where it is not necessary to cut to a wide shot when a character is speaking, or the fact that we see a shot from above during a scene.
While these look good and are metaphorical, they might not be at the right time, and therefore prevent the audience from connecting completely. This is not to say that I was not emotionally involved in the story, as many times I was swept up in the story and my eyes welled up. Dealing with the subject matter of death is bound to evoke memories of ones own experiences. There is a lovely scene where one of Hugh Jackman’s characters is giving himself a tattoo. While the scene is emotionally powerful, it would have been even more powerful had we not been distracted by the close up of the piercing of the skin – three times! I could feel the audience wince and I wonder how many, like me were taken out of the story, and this moment, because of it. I have a criticism of the ending of one of the stories, as it slightly resembles the ending of an episode of Tales Of The Unexpected or The Twilight Zone, which is a shame as it distracts from the end almost entirely.
The film begins with the tone that prevails throughout the whole film. Some will be not be engaged by this, and some will be hooked from the first scene. I cannot help but wonder what the film would be like, if it gradually built to its dream-like state, rather than beginning like this. The film begins with an ‘action’ sequence that is set apart from the sequential narrative order of the film. If this was meant as some kind of hook to have a dramatic beginning, I did not think that this was necessary to the film, and this particular scene would have been better in sequence, later in the story. But these are just my opinions, and a subjective one at that. And this is the basis of this film; it is open to what you take into the cinema with you.
I do not want this review to sound negative, as my overall opinion of the film is positive. It is great to see this kind of film on the big screen, played by A–list actors and with a reasonable budget. The film is ambitious in theme and is stunning to look at, and for me the more films like this one, the better cinematic experiences we will all have. One might compare it with 2001: A Space Odyssey, in its dreaminess and visual direction and with Eternal Sunshine Of A Spotless Mind on its themes of love and loss. But the film is definitely not for the mainstream audience. And I think that even the more literate film audience will be divided. The film is open to interpretation, and therefore it is open to criticism.
There are great performances from its leads, and it is good to watch Hugh Jackman pull out his best performance to date.
It is a beautiful, romantic film that took my breath away – but not completely.
You will not have seen a film like this before, so go and see it.