Darren Aronofsky’s “The Fountain” is a vast, insightful and weird drama. Aronofsky’s works (including “Pi” and “Requiem for a Dream”), like those of Michel Gondry (“The Science of Sleep”), linger and haunt the mind long after credits roll. “The Fountain” is no exception. With its constantly evolving characters, vivid settings and philosophy-meets-science-fiction tone, Aronofsky’s latest is impossible to dismiss.
Stars Rachel Weisz and Hugh Jackman play a pair of fated-to-be-mated characters who are reincarnated throughout the film. First they are Queen Isabel and the devoted soldier Tomás, then Dr. Tommy Creo and his dying wife Izzi (who, incidentally, is writing a book about the Spanish queen and her conquistador). Finally, Jackman portrays a monk-like Tommy seeking eternal life for the tree that now incorporates Izzi’s spirit. Each incarnation of Tommy has the same challenge: to find the Tree of Life (of Genesis fame) and revive Isabel/Izzi with its healing powers.
Stretching across a millennium, from the Spanish Inquisition in 1500 to the year 2500, “The Fountain” plays on both an intellectual and heartfelt level. It is also unabashedly sensual, from mutely suggestive to ardently sexual. The slightest rising of the hairs on Izzi’s neck to Tommy’s lips receives an erotic zing from the chemistry of the actors, the tactile sound of his whisper and the close intimacy of the camera shot.
The grisly opening sequence and other scenes from the conquistador’s quest call to mind the violence and darkness of Aronofsky’s earlier works, but the rest of the film is gentler, with more spiritual exploration than painful intensity. The eternal nature of the love story, divided though it is by the film’s many flashes backward and forward, combined with the passion of the characters resonates deeply in all three time periods.
Pervasive architectural touches, repeated lines of dialogue and even subtle casting recurrences contribute to a sense of “wholeness” that is often absent in films this complex and far-reaching. This unified approach elevates “The Fountain” from another convoluted science-fiction experiment to a high cinematic achievement. James Chinlund’s inspired production design achieves a look of authenticity in each era. The color and shape of each landscape — the Mayan jungles, the golden hue of a dying nebula, the root cluster of a bubble-encased tree, the snowy farmlands — houses the complexity of Aronofsky’s tale completely.
One of the most astounding visual elements in the film is light, practically a featured player thanks to cinematographer Matthew Libatique. From Inquisition Spain’s imposing gloom to the illuminating grandeur of future-Tommy’s space voyage, light plays over and around the actors — now subtle, now blinding, colorful and brilliant. Renée April’s costume design is dramatic and flawless, from the first sweep of a
conquistador’s helmet to the undulating sleeves of future-Tommy’s outfit.
As for the acting, Weisz and Jackman are impeccably paired. The passion of Jackman’s characters and the peaceful patience of Weisz’s foil one another throughout the film. Where Izzi is resigned and “whole” about the prospect of dying, Tommy is raging. From his furrowed brow and heated gaze to her sweet and unruffled features, close-up after expressive close-up illustrates the passion between the two.
“Creo,” the last name of Jackman and Weisz’s characters, means (not coincidentally) “I believe” in Spanish. Tommy’s undying belief that he can save his queen and his wife and Izzi’s faith that death is only “the road to awe” are what carry this film. Aronofsky’s vision falters only when he gets so wrapped up in the philosophical implications of his “concept” that he veers away from his characters. He returns just as quickly, however, and when he’s focused, “The Fountain” soars.
“The Fountain” was written and directed by Darren Aronofsky.
“The Fountain” received 3 1/2 stars.