WYSHW: The Fountain
Sometime between Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler and Black Swan, Darren Aronofksy made a gorgeous sci-fi epic entitled The Fountain, a film which I notice isn’t talked about often. Why is that? I feel that The Fountain is a beautiful romance of Mayan mythology and multi-verse story telling that is very much overlooked. So I guess I’ll just break it all down for you – sorry but spoilers are ahead.
A Story Within a Story
Our film begins in the year 2005, where we learn about a neuroscientist named Tommy Creo (Hugh Jackman), and his ill wife Izzi (Rachel Weisz). Izzy has been diagnosed with some sort of unnamed brain illness, to which there is no cure. Izzi has accepted her fate, but Tommy becomes obsessed with the idea that death is a disease, and will stop at nothing until he finds a cure. After she dies, Tommy finally reads a book she had previously begged him to finish – a book she wrote about love during the Spanish Inquisition.
Cut to 16th Century Spain, Queen Isabella (Rachel Weisz) is under siege by the grand inquisitor and begs her betrothed, a conquistador named Tomàs (Hugh Jackman), to search for the Biblical Tree of Life in South America. After battling with countless Mayan protectors (and one with a kickass flaming sword), he finds the tree, and desperately start drinking the sap only to become one with the earth.
Then we have the year 2500 with Tommy as Tom, an astral monk soaring through the cosmos in a biosphere containing a tree – a tree that was planted on Izzi’s grave. Tom is on a mission to find Xibalba, the Mayan spirit world, said to be where souls are reunited. He has survived this journey because of his desire to be with Izzi once again, if not for eternity.
The Road to Awe
This all sounds quite crazy, doesn’t it? Some people would venture as far to say ridiculous. I don’t really understand why people have such a hard time suspending their disbelief, especially when it comes to science fiction. If you just go with it, the overall piece is just so beautiful, it’s really quite indescribable.
First off, if you haven’t guessed, the visuals are astounding. One of the coolest things about this film is that there were barely any CGI effects used – space was filmed with trick photography and shooting light through petri dishes. With such stunning visuals partnered with a powerful, driving score, really what you’ve got here is a fantastic setting for something splendid – in this case an epic romance.
What’s different about The Fountain is that it’s a romance that only deals with the relationship between Izzi and Tommy. By placing the focus on these two characters, and only these two characters, you get this wonderful dynamic between the two of them, which just lets you believe in love and destiny and sacrifice and all that mushy crap.
Tommy’s obsession is another interesting element of the plot, because I’ll be honest here, the plot really doesn’t move much. You’re there suffering with him, and you know there’s no point in finding a cure – that was the idea all along – Izzi knew that, and that’s all she was trying to say but he wouldn’t listen. Sometimes you just need to let go.
Death is Not the End
I think one of the most important aspects of The Fountain was how it portrayed death. By adding the relationship element, it’s like witnessing the seven stages of grief, but told through three different stories with the same ending: acceptance. At one point in the film, Izzi tells Tommy about when she went to South America and her guide told her about how his father died and they planted a tree on his grave. The tree grew and blossomed, and birds came and carried his father away with them – “death was his road to awe.” After she tells him this, she says that she is not afraid anymore.
This is probably one of the most beautiful metaphors for death I have ever witnessed in a film. Filled with comfort and wonder, you want Tommy to find that it’s okay to move on, death is not the end – that’s all Izzi wanted to tell him all along, that’s why she wrote Tomàs’ death. Sure that moment was confusing, ridiculous and a little frightening, but hey, we can’t always choose how we go. That’s just part of the process. I don’t know, maybe deep down I’m more of a romantic than I’d like to admit, but I’d rather go with a transgressive astral monk over a Nicholas Sparks piece any day. Gotta admit, it’s pretty groovy.
Next time on What You Should Have Watched, a modern film noir that isn’t Brick.