Friday 21 December 2007

The Fountain (2006)

Friday 21 December 2007
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writer: Darren Aronofsky (story by Darren Aronofsky & Ari Handel)

Cast: Hugh Jackman (Tommy Creo/Tomas/Tom), Rachel Weisz (Izzi Creo/Isabel), Ellen Burstyn (Dr Lillian Guzetti), Stephen McHattie (Grand Inquisitor Silecio), Cliff Curtis (Captain Ariel), Mark Margolis (Father Avila), Fernando Hermandez (Lord Of Xibalba), Sean Patrick Thomas (Antonio), Donna Murphy (Betty), Ethan Suplee (Manny), Richard McMillan (Henry), Lorne Brass (Dr Alan Lipper), Abraham Aronofsky (Lab Technician), Renee Asofsky (Lab Technician) & Arish Majumdar (Dr Spencer)

In three different time zones, a Spanish conquistador, a scientist, and an astronaut, try to discover the secret of eternal life...

Originally intended as a $75 million epic starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchette, acclaimed director Darren Aronofsky's film hit the skids in 2002 when Pitt bailed, but resurrected a few years later... with its budget halved and its leads recast...

I'm sure the extra cash would have made The Fountain even more wondrous and visually enthralling, but $35 million still buys you a lot of eye-candy. Consequently, too, Aronofsky's streamlining of his script to focus on character and small-scale moments surely benefits his cerebral sci-fi parable.

Hugh Jackman takes the lead as Tomas; a 16th-Century Spanish conquistador exploring a Mayan temple for the "Tree Of Life", so he can save the Spanish Queen (Rachel Weisz) from tyranny. In the present, Jackman is Thomas; a scientist trying to cure brain tumours in monkeys, so he can use the technique to save the life of his terminally ill wife Izzi (Weisz again). In the distant future, Jackman is Tom; a bald astronaut inside a "bubble spaceship" containing a gnarled tree, on his way to a nebula with a dying star in its centre.

Each "incarnation" of Tom is essentially after the same thing: immortality. The chance to defeat death and find divinity, if only to save the ones we love from being lost forever.

The most compelling time zone in The Fountain is the contemporary era, which affords Jackman and Weisz more opportunities to shine, in a relationship drama with considerably punch. Terminal illness is a devastating thing to grapple with, particularly when a couple have such opposing views on how to deal with it...

Tom is driven to find a cure, to be pragmatic, even if that means leaving his wife alone in hospital; while Izzie is more spiritual and accepting of her fate, finding solace in ancient Mayan myths about life and our place in the universe.

The Mayan sequences are less emotive, but weave nicely into the story's texture, while the futuristic scenes are intriguing and bizarre – but feed into the contemporary story well, gradually becoming more understandable as various pieces of the puzzle drift together and connect.

Jackman is haunted, passionate, and soulful as the lead; clearly relishing the opportunity to wring every ounce of emotion from the script and his triptych of characters' explorations. Weisz is heartbreaking and beautiful as his wife, making her relationship with Jackman really work. Their scene in a bathtub is particularly intimate, while her characters' dreamy self-belief in something greater tugs at the heartstrings.

Visually, The Fountain's budget notably restrains the Mayan sequences, but not enough to make them flounder. Thankfully, the panoramas of space are impressive and brilliantly conceived by filming micro-organisms under microscopes, with very little computer-generated effects involved. The result is beautiful, fluid and fresh-looking.

The Fountain will likely polarize audiences, as it doesn't spell anything out, but it should reward those who enjoy films with depth and ambition behind them. It's not a classic, and pales when compared to Aronofsky's gut-punching Requiem For A Dream, but it's not often a film comes along that aims for 2001: A Space Odyssey-style credibility.

So, while imperfect, The Fountain's performances are superb, its visuals are inventive, and the themes are universal and timeless. It doesn't quite come together for a mind-expanding pay-off, but it's a compelling journey across time and space... and one that that remembers to keep things small, personal and truthful...

Warner Brothers
Budget: $35 million
96 minutes