I have been reading about Darren Aronofsky's new film for some time now. Given my reaction to Pi, perhaps I should've been wary; Pi was obviously brilliant, but I'm sure I didn't get most of the nuance of the film. But I had seen pictures from The Fountain and was somewhat excited about it. Then, earlier this week, I saw the full trailer and there was simply no way I couldn't see this film. My wife and I saw it yesterday.
Important thing to bear in mind as you read: I liked the movie a whole lot.
So, let me get this out of the way first, because I have seen articles in places that might lead you to think otherwise: The Fountain is not science fiction. It is clearly speculative fiction, but I would say it leans more towards fantasy, because the science part of the movie provides a background for the events in the movie, rather than much of the thematics or plot. There is the search for the elixir of youth being done in a manner befitting the scientific method, but when it is found, it's not an invention so much as the properties of a discovery from nature. And perhaps, my hypothetical reader, you might think I'm just splitting fine hairs since there is interstellar travel in the movie; it's okay if you think so. But to me, it makes a difference--in discussing the film, however, not in enjoying it. (I intend to write more about genres in the future, but if you want to see my position, you can visit my home page and choose the Science Fiction link to see what/how I think.)
The Fountain is an agonizingly, heartachingly beautiful movie. The story is about the timelessness of love, which can be beautiful in its own right, and the movie deftly sidesteps forays into mawkishness. But I also mean to say that the film is beautiful. The cinematography is amazing and will pull your heart up into your throat. The music is wonderful. Hugh Jackman carries the acting load and does so very well, making you feel his emotions in the twist of his face or the delivery of a line. Rachel Weisz swings between gloriously beautiful and merely fey, but the beauty of her character's soul when being fey might well outshine the gloriously beautiful parts.
So I realize I haven't really said anything about the plot. There are three storylines, each about 500 years apart (though there is nothing in the movie to indicate when the stories are actually supposed to be taking place; the trailers, reviews, and interviews contain this information). Story A involves Queen Isabella and Tomas, a conquistador she sends to the Mayans in order to find the source of eternal youth. Immediately you are submerged in a dual strangeness--the strangeness of another culture, the Mayans, and the strangeness of a place where myths appear to be true. Story B is more contemporary, involving the couple Tom and Izzi Creo; she's a patient dying of what appears to be inoperable brain cancer, while he is a devoted husband searching for the cure to the disease killing his wife. Story C is actually the "now" of the movie, with stories A and B taking place as flashbacks for the only character in Story C, a nameless space traveller who happens to look a great deal like Tom Creo on his way to a dying star.
The stories are interwoven throughout the movie, and events we see at first pass are revisited and expanded upon, or perhaps even rewritten as the characters evolve. I found myself setting aside my questions for after I left the theater, and I think that may be the best approach to take. Questions get answered in their own time, and if you get yourself all contorted about them in the course of the movie, you could probably miss the important things about each scene.
And let me be honest, there are questions when the movie is done. I'm okay with that, however; these aren't the questions of the "How could X surive the 50-story fall with only a broken leg?" variety. These are questions more like "What was the journey for X to get from this emotional space to this other emotional space?" You know, the important questions, not picking at continuity and believability flaws. But those questions I did end up with are typical of how I felt this movie worked; it's engaging and smart, and it doesn't dumb itself down to the typical mainstream movie-goer IQ.
And perhaps that's why this movie will fail. It's being treated as a mainstream movie, and it just isn't. The guy sitting behind my wife and I fell asleep halfway through, in one of the more majestic scenes, probably because he just wasn't engaged. My wife and I were. As the final credits rolled, most of the few people who attended were quick to get out and get on with their lives. I needed a while to compose my thoughts (and I remain through the credits anyway). My wife looked at me and asked "How could this movie have gotten made and been released?" It is that different from what is usually available, especially those brain-numbing movies that are labeled with a "SF" tag. But I believe it to be worth it. See it while you can, see it on the big screen, and see it digital if possible.