Rejected by many, Darren Aronofsky´s The Fountain is far too delicate for conventional criticism; a magical, mystical, spiritual, and intimate film that tackles subjects no less than life and death and the nature of our existence in this world.
The director´s long-awaited follow-up to Pi and Requiem for a Dream landed with a thud in US cinemas, but like Kubrick´s 2001, and Tarkovsky´s Solaris, it´s sci-fi with a brain, and a heart, and that much too rare a film; even if it didn´t measure up with the aforementioned epics, comparisons to 2010 or Soderbergh´s Solaris would still be welcomed.
Short running time contrasted with what feels like an epic suggests studio tampering; but the film is so unconventional that the studio likely wouldn´t know what to do with it.
Film presents three separate, parallel stories, spanning time and space. In the present, we follow Dr. Tom Creo (Hugh Jackman) as he attempts to save dying wife Izzi (Rachel Weisz) by coming up with a cure for cancer; chemicals from a Mayan tree seem to be producing positive effects on a monkey, which provides hope. Meanwhile, half a century in the past, Spanish conquistador Tomas (again Jackman) is sent to find the tree of life by Queen Isabel (again Weisz).
And in the future (or maybe not) Jackman travels through space in a bubble with a tree, occasionally snacking on its bark (in a drug analogy that delightfully contrasts with Aronofsky´s previous films), heading towards some unforeseen goal.
None of this ‘gels´ in a conventional sense, as the film follows a kind of dream logic, the stories referencing each other in interesting and unusual ways. Wonderful non-cgi visuals, beautiful cinematography, and a pulsating Clint Mansell score keep us compelled nonetheless.
Attacked by many critics for its lack of character development, and plot development, and general coherency. But this is a film that doesn´t follow conventions, in fact it outright ignores them, flying in the face of criticism in the process: you might say it doesn´t succeed, but then it doesn´t want to succeed – not in the ways you think it does, anyway.
Many won´t know what to make of it, perhaps reject it on principal, and in some ways they´re right – this can´t be compared to your usual Oscar-winner.
But The Fountain has exactly the kind of ambition and originality of vision that we should be asking from our filmmakers; whether or not we find it ‘successful´ by traditional methods, it´s still a memorable, important, beautiful film. One that cannot easily be rated and catalogued but one that should be viewed, discussed, analyzed, and appreciated, even if we find it difficult to enjoy.
History shall treat it more kindly than contemporary reviewers.