Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Written by: Darren Aronofsky (screenplay), Darren Aronofsky & Ari Handel (story)
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn, and Sean Patrick Thomas
There are many movies that are so beautifully filmed that you could take almost any still-frame from it and hang it in your house. Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain is one of these movies. In fact, it may have been better off as individual frames in an art gallery instead of a movie.
This is a film where the filmmaking technique is serving a story that is almost as ambitious but not nearly as realized. It follows Tommy (Hugh Jackman) a doctor who is trying to cure his terminally ill wife Izzi (Rachel Weisz). That is the barebones of a story that dips back to ancient Spanish culture as well as travels hundreds of years into the future. You’ll come to learn that Izzi wrote a book about Spanish conquistadors and the Tree of Life, and when Tommy starts reading it he envisions himself as one who is pursuing the Tree so that he can live forever with the queen (also played by Weisz).
The present moment anchors both that plot and the movie’s most bizarre: a space traveler moving toward a dying star encapsulated in a bubble. Shot in glorious gold-tinted tones, this is both the movie’s most visually interesting and narratively uninteresting portion. It’s clear that a “future” segment was necessary for Aronofsky to tell his story of love physically dying and metaphysically enduring over all time periods, but when he isn’t establishing the setting with the gorgeous cinematography it falls flat on its face.
With all of the sweeping images and constant drama unfolding on the screen, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where The Fountain goes wrong. It’s in the editing. The shots can stand alone, but many of them do not flow together. As a result the movie’s momentum is uneven and it feels quite awkward.
That being said, there are sequences that are exceptionally well done, mostly in the present. Jackman is extraordinary in this role. The scene where he uses the pen his wife gave him to self-tattoo a band where his missing wedding ring goes is the movie’s saddest, most poignant moment. It needed more of those.
It’s hard not to compare this movie to the recent The Tree of Life, and it suffers by almost all comparisons except visual ones. Aronofsky is a gifted storyteller, as Requiem For a Dream, The Wrestler and Black Swan all show. The problem is, he was putting a spin on old genres and older stories with those other movies. Here, he tries his hand at sci-fi with a premise that needed a three-hour epic to even skim the surface. Unfortunately, it feels that long even at 96 minutes.
This is a very sincere movie, one made with obvious passion from all those who were involved. Whether it was budgetary constraints or just running out of steam, it doesn’t become fully realized. Like Tommy, this movie is obssessed with not dying, so much so that that it forgets to live.