Part of a quest to find career revitalization, The Fountain is the story of a once acclaimed director trying to return to relevance in the film world after an extended hiatus. Darren Aronofsky’s new film is the story of a man trying to save his wife from different forms of spreading infection jumping in context of three specific points over the course of a millennium. This narrative triad begins in 1500 AD, as Tomas (played by Hugh Jackman) ventures into the New World as a conquistador in a quest for the Tree Of Life from the Old Testament in an attempt to protect his Queen Isabel (played by Rachel Weisz) from further enemy invasion. Set in the present, Jackman’s character is a medical researcher searching for a cure for his dying wife’s tumor. The latest of these sequences is set in a phantasmal orb where Jackman remains in seclusion with his dying tree, haunted by flashing recollections of the time with his wife.
Despite the cheesy marketing of the film (begging the question “What if you could live forever”) The Fountain is comprised of an interesting narrative style and consistently stunning visuals that set it higher than the aforementioned cheap rhetorical question. His first film in six years, Darren Aronofsky returns with a work that sets itself apart from his past repertoire both in story and directing style. A departure from Pi and Requiem for a Dream, Aronofsky completely scraps the trite music video style of fast editing that was used in his previous films, instead going for more shot composition. Although he is often tied to his previous ADD editing, Aronofsky successfully branches out into a more mature filmmaking style that will age better than his past work. Completely dodging the use of regressive computer generated images, The Fountain uses a unique form of micro-photography that films Petri dish growths and chemical reactions and speeds them up to create an interesting atmosphere. “We went to a guy from Oxford and he specializes in shooting into these dishes and putting it onto film to create some of the scenes in the movie,” Aronofsky explained at a roundtable discussion. Against the grain of its digitally enhanced contemporaries, The Fountain is a return to an experimental form of making films, leaving visuals up to chance and allowing the film’s great shots to come naturally.
While the chemistry between central characters remains engaging throughout, the audience cannot help but detect the film’s strong derivation from past films of the quasi-science fiction genre. The Fountain relies on the themes of rebirth, most obviously drawing influence from 2001: A Space Odyssey, but with a more direct story. While covering these themes and remaining a love story, Aronofsky is guilty of going over the top at times with rather convoluted scenes attempting to fall into line with the cerebral nature of the rest of the film. It is difficult to define a film like this, leaving it open to interpretation in the spirit of a poem more than it is a sci-fi quest for immortality. The film’s creator even points out that “it’s very much a non-verbal experience, to sit there and try and explain everything (to the audience), I never intended it to be that.” Above all, it stands as a positive step for the growing young director, projecting future films to be in this more mature form. The Fountain is anything but clean or straightforward in any aspects but for this it should be acknowledged and commended for the interesting filmmaking style into which it ventures.