Movie Review #738
Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Screenplay by Darren Aronofsky. (Story: Darren Aronofsky & Ari Handel.) Produced by Arnon Milchan, Iain Smith, and Eric Watson for Protozoa Pictures, New Regency, and Muse Entertainment Enterprises, presented by Warner Bros. and Regency Enterprises. Starring Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn, Mark Margolis, Stephen McHattie, Fernando Hernandez, Cliff Curtis, Sean Patrick Thomas, Donna Murphy, Ethan Suplee, Richard McMillan, Lorne Brass, and Anish Majumdar. Cameo: Abraham Aronofsky. Premiered at Venice Film Festival on September 4, 2006. Distributed by Warner Bros. in wide release on November 22, 2006. Rated PG-13: some intense sequences of violent action, some sensuality and language (edited for re-rating). Runs 96 minutes.
I’ve always found Darren Aronofsky a spectacular director. He has gone wrong (his debut “Pi”), and if “The Fountain” does anything in the end, it proves that he doesn’t always go as right as we wish he would. This is the story of an epic novel called The Fountain. Actually, that serves as one-third of the story. The writer of this fictional work-in-progress is a woman dying of a suddenly malignant tumor. That behind-the-scenes look at the writer (Rachel Weisz) serves as another third of the movie. The writer eventually accepts death and hands the book to her husband, who she wills to write the final chapter. He, however, refuses to believe in the inevitability of her death and, though conflicted, refuses to take over for writing for her. Since this movie is actually two-thirds an epic (the story of The Fountain novel, as well as a sequence that seems to take place in Heaven), I’m not really sure why Aronofsky would limit his world to 96 minutes. But it is what it is, which ultimately is a good movie.
As we’re only sure of half of what’s going on in this whole surreal experience (that being an understatement), the movie brings about much curiosity. I can’t say what this movie was precisely about even now, but I can say I was watching a very interesting film. I do applaud the approach Aronofsky took to The Fountain (the book) story: a search for Eden that plays out not as a Biblical but as a fantastical epic. Still, this story is paralleled with two more, each of them separated by epoch, era, country, or worldliness. We’re talking about a movie that, no matter how you slice it, is odd.
“The Fountain” is also quiet and unassuming, a rarity for a sci-fi/fantasy of the modern Hollywood. But this is not to imply that it is peaceful. Deep down, we are staring at a very dark movie, and we are haunted by the notion that it is staring back at us. (Am I thinking too strongly in the Nietzschean wavelength? Alas, when one looketh into the abyss, the abyss doth look back.) As with any Aronofsky movie, “The Fountain” finalizes in an act of self-destruction. While this isn’t the most graphic or haunting depiction, it’s disappointingly below the standards Aronofsky has set. Watch “Requiem for a Dream” or “Black Swan” to discover just what kind of psychofrantic game Aronofsky loves to play on his films’ climaxes. By most standards, this lead-in to the end is pretty exhilarating, but as a fan of the director, I was expecting a bit more.
On the other hand, the climax presents great symbolism, and more memorably than usual for Aronofsky. I’m referring to the inciting self-destruction scene, which involves ink and blood so relevantly that the scene can only be understood in context with the full movie. But the moment isn’t achieved without Matthew Libatique’s cinematography. “The Fountain” is a breathtaking fascination of extreme closeups and aerial slots. The movie is visually astonishing, with Clint Mansell’s score to complement it. It’s finely established, though, that Libatique, Mansell, and Aronofsky are a trio for the ages. Maybe the feel of “The Fountain” makes it so, but if we’re looking for their true combined chef d’oeuvre, it’s “Requiem for a Dream”. ✴
– Alexander Diminiano