Monday, January 22, 2007

THE FOUNTAIN - intriguing/frustrating

In short, Darren Aronofsky disappearing down a dead end is still more interesting than most Hollywood hacks getting it right.

Aronofsky is a challenging director – both in terms of content and visual style. And if I found his debut feature, PI, more intriguing than perfect, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM is certainly one of my pantheon movies. Its bleak depiction of drug abuse and crass commerce was told in an innovative style and with uncompromising honesty. Not to mention the fact that Aronofsky managed to coax career-redefining performances from Ellen Burstyn and Jennifer Connelly. Where these movies succeeded was in scraping underneath the surface of a relatively closed under-ground world. Investigating the workings of mania and paranoia and addiction on a small group of individuals living in contemporary society – albeit a strand of society that most of us never interact with.

With THE FOUNTAIN, Aronofsky moves well beyond his (dis)comfort zone into the territory of 2001. He eschews contemporary settings to produce a more abstract, symbolic and richly stylised movie. At its heart is a man called Tom (Hugh Jackman) who is desperately in love with his fatally ill wife, an authoress called Izzy (Rachel Weisz). The crux of the story is Tom’s initial refusal to accept Izzy’s impending death. In the contemporary story-line, Tom chooses to spend time researching a cure rather than spending what time remains with Izzy. This choice will rack him with guilt in the futuristic story-line, which sees Tom living alone with his regrets in a sci-fi world of loneliness (another Requiem for a Dream of Eternal Love?) The film is also inter-cut with a further storyline which sees Izzy’s novel re-enacted. Tom is now cast as a Spanish conquistador on a mission from Izzy’s Queen of Spain to find a plant that can give eternal life.

The thematic content of the movie is thus profound, but also surprisingly simple, especially given the complexity of Aronofsky’s narrative structure and visual and audio stylings. The movie boasts an evocative sound-track from the Kronos Quartet and Mogwai and the production design features fairy-tale symbols and beautifully rendered old-fashioned visual effects. The problem is that at least half of it feels redundant. I am also unconvinced by the heavy-handed symbolism of the presumably deliberately under-lit opening scenes of the Conquistador? Of many examples, Christopher Nolan proved in BATMAN BEGINS that it is possible to create a dark, brooding atmosphere while actually allowing the audience to see what is going on.

The overall effect is that while powerful, the simple central question posed by the film drowns under the weight of the deliberately obscure production design, cinematography and editing. The over-complicated structure and design and abstract script also prohibit Jackman and Weisz from giving memorable performances - though they do their best with portentious dialogue. All this combines to make THE FOUNTAIN simultaneously one of the most intriguing and frustrating films I have seen in a long time.

THE FOUNTAIN played Venice and Toronto 2006. It opened in the US, Argentina, Brazil, Taiwan and France in winter 2006. It opened in Poland, South Africa, Germany and Estonia earlier this month and opens in Australia, Italy and the UK this weekend. THE FOUNTAIN opens in South Korea on Feb 8th and in Israel and Singapore on Feb 22nd. It opens in New Zealand on March 1st and in Hong Kong, the Netherland and Belgium on March 8th. It opens in Norway on March 16th, Spain on March 30th, Sweden and and Finland on April 13th and in Japan on July 7th.


  1. And though I agree with you on the "intriguing and frustrating" bit, I still liked this movie much more than some of the other dribble that came out last year.

  2. Isn't that what I said in my opening sentence?!

  3. Well, it's got a Mogwai soundtrack so that's me hooked in. I've also seen a comic book adaptation/version of this in some stores. Might be an interesting read.

  4. Hey Ali D! Let me restate just how incredible the entire sound design and soundtrack is. And given that the real strength of the movie are the visuals, I reckon it could almost work better as a graphic novel...or perhaps as just the sound-track and visuals but no dialogue. It's an odd film. In a way it reminded me of movies like The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes that work as a kind of conceptual art (sorry - pretentious) rather than as conventional cinema.