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Fountain, The

USA 2006
Directed by
Darren Aronofsky
96 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bruce Paterson
3.5 stars

The Fountain

Synopsis: A love story seen through a prism of striking visual effects and a blend of past, present and future events; or distant past, past and future events?

The Fountain is a spiralling contemplation on a fantastic and mysterious cycle of life and love. It appears to be set largely in a recognizable present, with scientist Tom (Hugh Jackman) obsessed with his efforts to find a cancer cure for his wife, Izzi (Rachel Weisz). But then it appears to be set in some mysterious future where Tom is floating through interstellar space towards a beautiful nebula, in the simple transparent globe of an ecospheric vessel that sustains him and a dying tree. And slowly it becomes clear why Tom also appears to be recalling a life as a 15th century conquistador searching for a mythical tree of eternal life.
In the present, Jackman and Weisz are solid performers against the slightly cheesy background of a research institute and a somewhat unconvincing roster of supporting characters whose story begins to draw us into the puzzle of the film.

Jumping to the past, Jackman is almost unrecognisable as the hirsute conquistador, eyes burning with a crusader’s intensity as he battles in South America to fulfill a quest set by Weisz, the Queen of Spain. In the future, the shaven Jackman is fighting memory as he approaches what seems to have been a journey through centuries of solitude. Binding the three parts together is a spiritual  exploration of a creation myth involving the legendary tree of life that promises immortality.

Aronofsky and his visual and sound collaborators have gone all out to make a reflective kind of sci-fi/fantasy. Originally armed with US$70m, Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, things faltered when Pitt left for Troy and the sets were auctioned off. Fortunately, the studio eventually restarted the project on half the original budget. This turned Aronofsky’s mind from some of his original plans and led to visuals and effects largely created by macro-photography. Instead of computer-generated effects the swirling vistas you see onscreen, orchestrated by the Kronos Quartet, might instead be manifestations of natural worlds normally hidden to our eyes.

Aronofsky’s films are marked with a confronting visual, aural and narrative style. Pi (1998) was a grainy black and white portrait of paranoia with a heavy techno beat. His musing on addiction, Requiem for a Dream, received a 13 minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival in 2000. But The Fountain drew a few boos at the Venice Film Festival. Admittedly, it can be confounding, but in the right frame of mind, it can equally be compelling. At least some of the negative critical reaction might be explained by the American trailer for the film which plumbs new depths in the history of marketing misrepresentation. It can be hard to like something sold under false pretences, no matter how interesting it is in itself.

Looking past the dis-satisfaction, Aronofsky’s vision brings to mind Tarkovsky's reflections on love in the face of a mysterious universe in Solaris (1972), and Kubrick's psychedelic meditations on cosmic conceptions in 2001The Fountain may not be completely successful, but it is worth seeing for those not averse to cinematic experimentation.




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