I think I’ve said it before: I don’t like Pi. In fact, I found Darren Aronofsky’s debut film to be pretentious and self-important. That being said, I thought Requiem for a Dream was disturbing but well done, although I saw it once, and have no need to ever see it again. (Even for Jennifer Connelly, I know I know.) So when I finally went to see The Fountain, I went in with admitted prejudices, some internal and some external (the negative reviews didn’t help). In the end, though, I was pleasantly surprised. Please note that spoilers follow.
This non-linear tone poem of a film takes place over three different time periods: 1500, with Tomas (Hugh Jackman) on a quest to find the Tree of Life in the New World, to help Queen Isabel (Rachel Weisz) defeat the Spanish Inquisition; 2000, with Tommy (Jackman) trying to discover a cure for cancer to save his wife Izzi (Weisz) from dying; and 2500, with Tommy and a tree floating through space towards a dying star in the Orion constellation. Obviously this last segment is cause for head-scratching, but it all makes sense, when you take the story as a whole.
The film is part “fiction” and part “reality” (all within the film’s universe). In the 2000 timeframe, Izzi is writing a manuscript called “The Fountain”, about the events shown to us in the 1500 timeframe. But the 2500 timeframe shows that Tommy has indeed found the Tree of Life (in Guatemala, as hinted at in the film), and was able to sustain life long enough (500 years) to where technology has progressed to allow him to take Izzi (who has been absorbed into a tree planted above her grave) to Xiabalba (Maya underworld), a dying star in the Orion constellation where he believes that she will be able to be reborn. Or something. This isn’t really a movie to “understand” per se, although if you can’t follow what’s going on, you might get frustrated easily with it. It’s a movie to be observed, and go along with the flow. This non-linear pacing, jumping back and forth between three different timeframes, can be jarring, but at times it was really fascinating to watch. Visually, this film is well crafted, especially the 2500 timeframe, but it’s the music that stands out. Clint Mansell has composed an excellent score that contains a great theme based on three notes. Yes, three notes, but it holds so much meaning and depth that it’s hard not to keep thinking back to the score. It stuck with me for a while after seeing the film, and I’m definitely considering it for the Best of 2006 listing on SoundtrackNet.
So, if you’re up for a non-linear visual tone poem, go see The Fountain. If you’re easily frustrated and can’t handle movies that aren’t spoon-fed to you, then you’ll probably not enjoy it at all.