With its psychedelic special effects, 1000 year time span and complex, sometimes inscrutable, plot, the latest film from Darren S. Aronofsky ’91 is not your typical Hollywood Sci-fi thriller.
Some will call it heavy-handed and over-the-top, or even out-right bizarre. But, those who become entranced by its completely stunning imagery, mesmerizing original score, and puzzling philosophical overtones will mark it as one of the most memorable films of the year.
As Aronofsky’s first film since the 2000 indie classic, “Requiem for a Dream,” “The Fountain” has been a long time in the making. After losing Brad Pitt for the lead role and getting a $45 million budget reduction, the film was almost dropped entirely. But, Aronofsky persevered to create something perhaps more transcendent and timeless than one might expect of an independent director’s traumatic Hollywood debut.
The film is set in three different time periods, spanning a millenium. Though the official website calls it “an odyssey about one man’s eternal struggle to save the woman he loves,” this is not exactly crystal clear throughout the movie. While Tomas (Hugh Jackman in 16th-century form) fights Mayan warriors in his quest to find the Fountain of Youth, Tommy (21st-century Jackman) races against time to find a cure for his wife’s (Rachel Weisz) fatal cancer, and Tom (26th-century Jackman) meditates on the meaning of life as he floats towards Xibalba, a nebula/mythical Mayan underworld. If this sounds a bit trippy, rest assured, it is.
But, there is something deliciously intriguing about the story, even if the clichéd search for the Fountain of Youth is one of the main themes (hence the title of the film). It can be an enjoyable challenge to connect the three time periods and determine how they interact and work with the overall story. When that proves too laborious, however, the various settings do stand on their own.
Even if the story disappoints—some viewers will ultimately be alienated by the abrupt time jumps and gratuitous profundity—there are plenty of elements which make this film much more than just another hit-or-miss Sci-Fi drama. For one, the acting by Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz is exceptional. Though Jackman’s character is given to spouts of rage, do not expect Wolverine to erupt and tear everything apart. Jackman has a certain subtlety and finesse that show he will have a long post-“X-Men” career. Weisz is charming and perfectly cast in her role as Tommy’s dying wife; the two play a convincing couple teetering on death.
What really sets “The Fountain” apart is its visual and aural playing field. Using a variety of analog effects created by filming chemical reactions and other real-life activity, the visual landscape is a welcome and fascinating departure from today’s ubiquitous computer-generated artificiality; the shimmering water in front of the Fountain of Youth and the wild space imagery around the floating orb are utterly entrancing. All this is backed by Clint Mansell’s masterful original score. Transcendent and a stand-out piece of music of its own accord, the film could not be complemented better.
Despite what some may find disappointing in “The Fountain’s” plot, there is enough originality and audio-visual splendor to make it a worthwhile journey for anyone. Even if Aronofsky set out to create an epic high-budget adventure of Brad Pitt sailing through time, he came up with something perhaps more true to his independent roots. “The Fountain” is an innovative film with great acting and excellent cinematography squeezed out on a relatively meager budget.
Bottom Line: Even if you’re not intrigued by seeing 1000 years pass by in 96 heady minutes, see “The Fountain” for its capturing otherworldly cinematography and engrossing original score.