Friday, January 23, 2015

THE FOUNTAIN: RECONSIDERED

It's very hard for me to completely describe my feelings of love and admiration for Darren Aronofsky's uber-ambitious, boundary pushing The Fountain -- it stands as a towering artistic achievement made by a filmmaker in total control of his vision. This is awe-inspiring cinema-magic, crafted by a director who is interested in stretching the limits of the form, delving deep into his wild, fertile imagination, and delivering something completely uncompromising and unique. The Fountain lives in the same cinemaverse as 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Tree of Life, Enter the Void, Cloud Atlas, and Under the Skin, and as in those world-creating films, The Fountain has been hand-crafted by a filmmaker with an intensely personal vision, resulting in a work that is beyond thought provoking and visually astonishing at every turn. Matthew Libatique's cinematography on this film is transcendent; I'll never completely understand how some if it was achieved. Originally intended to be a $70 million production with Brad Pitt in the lead role, the film was delayed, scrapped, then resurrected with Hugh Jackman in the hot-seat and a comparatively "low" budget of $35 million. Even though I wouldn't change a frame of what Aronofsky delivered, I'll always be curious to know what the larger, Pitt-led version would have been like. And it's also been on my mind for a while now: is there a "director's cut" of The Fountain in Aronofsky's back-pocket waiting to be unleashed at some point in the future?
The complex narrative is going to be extremely dense for some, and to be honest, I'd be lying if I said that I "got" everything from the story. And that's fine. I'm not sure I need or want to know all of the secrets of The Fountain. Something this heady and layered needs to be experienced more than once, and as with all of the best art, every time you view The Fountain it will mean something different. At least that's how it's worked for me. The Fountain is an intentional and surreal hodgepodge of various elements from multiple genres, inspirations, and topics: history, religion, science, science-fiction, nature, and above all else: love. Aronofsky devised his mind-bending tale over three story lines, each one featuring Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz. Both actors deliver some of their best work in The Fountain, providing rich, full-bodied performances that are somehow never overwhelmed by the film's visual grandiosity. The narrative is set in three vastly different eras, in which Jackman and Weisz play different sets of characters who might possibly be the same two people in the grand scheme of the universe. In the present day, Jackman is a fevered scientist racing around the clock, trying to save his dying wife (Weisz) from cancer. A second track follows an ancient conquistador (Jackman) and his queen (Weisz), and the third bit is that of an advanced astronaut (Jackman) who ostensibly hallucinates (reincarnates?) his long-lost love (Weisz). Arnofsky and his editor, Jay Rabinowitz, brilliantly match-cut and jump-cut all throughout the film, creating an All-is-One type sense of encompassment. Add in the legendary score from Clint Mansell, which soars to grace notes previously undiscovered, and the overall results are nothing short of hallucinatory.
I vividly remember seeing this film in the theater on opening weekend, in a massive, mostly empty auditorium, and the experience I had at the time was extraordinarily different than the one I had last night while watching it in my living room (probably my fifth time taking it in from start to finish). As a piece of filmmaking, The Fountain feels like an organic creation, a living and breathing piece of art, something that reveals new sides and textures of its being each time you sit down to view it. And over the years, as my life has changed and as my cinematic tastes have expanded, the themes of The Fountain -- love, death, life, the power of hope -- have come into focus on an even stronger level. When you boil it down, The Fountain is an almost overwhelmingly sad film, filled with desperation, the longing for your soul mate, and our intrinsic desire to spend as much time with that one special person we love the most. The film makes you contemplate all that you value and hold dear to your heart, which is something that can't be said for too many pieces of filmic fiction. The surreal nature to the filmmaking heightens each segment of this constantly over-lapping tale, which gives your mind a wonderful mental work-out. Aronofsky seemingly designed The Fountain to be something unique for every viewer, with each viewing holding the potential to teach you something new about yourself and the film in general. This is a cosmic and trippy ode to the very idea of love and the process of loving another human being, a work that allows itself to be constantly rediscovered and reinterpreted.

1 comment:

Chambly Man said...

Thanks for the thoughtful commentary on The Fountain. It's a favorite of mine. I think it's incredibly beautiful, thrilling, and meaningful. I wasn't too surprised when it failed at the box office, considering how challenging and unconventional it is, but I was surprised that so few critics liked it. It's hard to find a fully positive pro review of it from the time of its release. I was astounded that more critics didn't appreciate the innovative visuals and story structure, or the deep, universal themes. Two things I wanted to mention to you: have you checked out the Fountain graphic novel adaptation?
http://www.amazon.com/Fountain-DARREN-ARONOFSKY-ebook/dp/B00K7EIY7K/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1441126927&sr=1-1&keywords=the+fountain
From what I can tell, I think it's based on the more expansive "Pitt/Blanchett" version of the screenplay. Definitely interesting to see, for a fan of the film. Written by Aronofsky himself, and nicely illustrated.
Second, there's a movie you might really enjoy (if you haven't already seen it) called The Fall…
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0460791/?ref_=nv_sr_3
Oddly enough, it came out the same year as The Fountain, also bombed at the BO, and features similarly (or more) incredible visuals, grounded in a human, emotional story. I really love it.
Cheers!
-Jonathan