June 17, 2007

The Fountain (2006)

After the release of his acclaimed feature length debut, the independent film "Pi", back in 1998, director Darren Aronofsky became one of the most promising names of the late 90s generation of young directors. Two years after "Pi", Aronofsky proved that he was more than a one hit wonder with his adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr.'s novel "Requiem for a Dream", a story about the consequences of drug addictions that without a doubt has become one of the first classics of the first decade of the 21st century. With such an outstanding beginning of career, it was natural that expectations for Aronofsky's next work grew to enormously high altitudes, and not few doubted that his new project, "The Fountain", could live up to the hype surrounding it (specially after the trouble preproduction, which lasted almost 5 years). Fortunately, Aronofsky's film demonstrates once again that his first two films were note the result of luck, and that there is real talent behind his work.

"The Fountain" is the story of Tomas Creo (Hugh Jackman), as he faces the fact that his beloved wife Izzi (Rachel Weisz) has terminal cancer and is close to death. A research oncologist himself, Tomas is desperately trying to find a cure for his wife's tumor, motivated by the idea that if he discovers a way to reverse brain tumors, he'll be able to save his wife. However, Izzi seems to have a different philosophy than him, and having accepted death, decides to write a book named "The Fountain", about a Spanish conquistador looking for the legendary Tree of Life. As Tom keeps failing in his many attempts to find the cure, his mind begins to suffer the consequences, but as he seems unable to accept his wife's fate, Izzi's has prepared a way for him to overcome his grief.

Written by Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel, "The Fountain" is essentially a love story with touches of science fiction, all spiced up with Aronofsky's ideas about philosophy. It's truly a very ambitious story, but Aronofsky manages to develop it nicely and with intelligence, avoiding the clichés and the sappiness that tend to be in movies dealing with similar themes. The philosophic themes (focusing on sociology and specially on Thanatology) are handled carefully, and while they are kept in simple and easy to understand terms, Aronofsky explores them deeply, making "The Fountin" a remarkable study of love and the experience of grief. As usual, Aronofsky fleshes out his characters in a very realistic way, making them feel very real and human, allowing us to easily feel identified with them (somehting essential given the subject matter of the story).

In "The Fountain", Aronofsky shows a real improvement in his skills as a director, as well as a willingness to push the boundaries of his very own style of storytelling. While the story is entirely focused on the characters' emotions, he allows himself to experiment with different styles as the story takes the characters to the past and the future (where Aronofsky displays a heavy use of symbols and traces of surrealism), and interestingly, he also moves away from many of the devices that had began to be known as "trademarks" of his style. "The Fountain" is a very visual movie (probably more than his previous two), but despite this, Aronofsky still manages to keep the story as the main focus of the movie. On a side not, it's worth to point out that Clint Mansell's score for the movie is truly amazing, and easily one of the best of the decade.

In a movie that's basically about the undying love between two characters, the performances of the actors portraying them are of great importance. Fortunately, the cast did a very good job with it, specially Hugh Jackman, who truly surprised me (I had never been impressed by his work before) and made me realize how really talented he is. His portrayal of Tom as a man who can't bear the unavoidable loss of the love of his life is truly moving. While Rachel Weisz is a really awesome actress, I couldn't help but think that this was not one of her best works, as while her character was supposed to be truly at peace, she came to me as cold and distant, making Jackman to shine even more. The supporting cast was overall very good, despite not having a lot of screen time when compared to Jackman and Weisz. Ellen Burstyn makes a small appearance and does a great job with it.

"The Fountain" is a very good movie, with many good elements on its favor as the cast, the score and the brilliant cinematography (by Matthew Libatique); however, it is not exactly the masterpiece the hype made it out to be. The film's main problem lays in the very ambitious (and let's face it, pretentious) way Aronofsky crafts his movie, as while he does indeed attempts to keep the film's message easy and simple, he seems to sacrifice the story for the sake of the symbolism of his visual art. This results in a plot that looks more contrived than what it really is, and that irremediably will feel somewhat patronizing to some viewers. I'm not saying it's a bad movie, but it's one that one must see with an open mind and aware that it's neither the masterpiece that the most ardent fans of Aronofsky make it to be, nor the void and pretentious trash its detractors claim it is.

In the end, the movie is a really satisfying experience, as despite its troubles the movie manages to deliver a nice and intelligent story and Aronofsky's interesting views on love and death. While sadly I must say that it's not the redefinition of science fiction that Aronofsky intended it to be, I'm happy to admit that with "The Fountain", director Aronofsky has proved that he was more than a lucky beginner, and that great things await for him in the future.


Buy "The Fountain" (2006)

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