In Aronofsky’s universe, there is an obsession whether an obsession with mathematics, drugs, television, ballet, sports, and others. In “Pi”, the main protagonist is obsessed with the existence of God through mathematics. The protagonist in “Requiem for a Dream” is obsessed with dreams through drugs. In “The Fountain”, the protagonist is obsessed with death through a tree.
The story is simple but rather complex. Divided into three stories but interconnected in a non-linear format. First, there was Tomas, the soldier in the 16th century, Spain. Queen Isabella orders Tomas to search for the Tree of Life, believed to hold a secret of eternity. Second, set in 2005. Tommy is a neuroscientist, conducting research to treat the cancer of his wife, Izzi. In the future to be exact in the year 2500, a space traveler trying to explore outer space together with the Tree of Life to reach the Nebula.
After his debuts in “Pi” and “Requiem for a Dream”, Darren Aronofsky began working on his most ambitious project called “The Fountain”. The public began to recognize his figure through “The Wrestler”, “Black Swan”, “Noah”, and “Mother!”. However, this movie has a long production process, especially the problem of budgeting, researching, and actors. Because of these problems, the film continued to be pushed back for years until Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz replaced Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. Weisz is Aronofsky’s fiance at the time.
“The Fountain” is rather simple, rather deep, yet rather complex. The movie gains its status as cult-classic after many years. Of the three stories, all have a clear red wire. All of these stories are based on humanity’s search for immortality. They each represent past as the year of 1500, present as the year of 2000, and future as the year of 2500. All of these stories change from one another and represent whether all of these are metaphorical or not and dream or reality.
The past represents a fantasy story about the search for the Tree of Life. In the present time, a doctor tries to find medicine to cure cancer and prevent aging. In the future, a space-time traveler or a monk sails through space using a bubble containing a tree with the ghost of his wife. Of the three stories, all become the basis of the story but the present is the most powerful story among the three; while the future is more of a metaphor and open-to-interpretation.
Tommy is upside-down. But, is he obsessed with life or death or is he really afraid of both? Tommy looked for a cure for cancer in order to prevent his wife’s death, but his wife did the opposite. She just wants her husband to spend his time in the last days before she dies. However, the husband tries to give the best but then regret comes behind. “The Fountain” explores death as a phase everyone must face. Aronofsky said that the film’s inspiration comes when someone is in a critical phase. As time goes by, time feels infinite but because it’s too fast, we don’t know they suddenly leave and disappear one by one.
Because of death, everyone feels alone whether they are alive or who have been in the next life. All of these stories are connected, especially also between past and future. In the past, Tomas has successfully united with the Tree of Life while in the future, there are so many theories as to whether the future is a second life or Tommy has found his immortality. Aronofsky, besides exploring the theme of obsession in various films, always inserts many religious elements. There are Mayan legends, the Tree of Life, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam and Eve, Nebula, galaxy stars, and reincarnation.
The audience really love and hate this movie but I prefer to say that this movie is melancholy. There is a feeling where you don’t know whether you want to hate or love something and this film is one of them. This movie is simple, very simple. However, it’s these three different stories that make this film difficult when trying to see it from a different perspective. Aronofsky assembles the three stories with a neat transition. On the other hand, it’s quite complicated and needs time to be able to adapt to the environment and its tone regardless of this isn’t a two-hour movie.
There is a lot of ambiguity and symbolization in this film including the magnificent visual effect especially the future part. The contradiction between immortality and approaching death is a unique theme and we often encounter in real life. The cinematography, costume design, to art direction, is unique as well. And Clint Mansell’s score flows favorably like its flow in the river. The tone is quite gloomy but bright in various parts. The performance is really there as well and the chemistry between Jackman and Weisz is one of the best in this movie.
“The Fountain” is a visual feast, a beautiful movie from all aspects, not really a simple story but deep in so many ways. Immortality, death, the meaning of life, reincarnation, second life, Aronofsky writes all of this interestingly. Three settings from various eras but it needs time so that the audience can understand it. This movie has a simple story but is woven by many complications. This is a worthy movie when you watch it more than once and it keeps better.
4 out of 5 stars.