Sunday, November 6, 2011

Darren Aronofsky Presents 2001: The Next Generation With The Fountain

The Good: Well acted, Interesting characters, Moments of mood, Scope, Effects
The Bad: Much of the mood, DVD extras
The Basics: When Tomas goes on a quest for the Tree of Life, he finds himself bound to a love that lasts a millennia in a slow, but pretty awesome cinematic experience.

Spike Feresten, a former writer for Seinfeld, had a late night show on Fox in the illustrious midnight-after-MadTV-on-Saturday timeslot. On his appropriately titled Talkshow With Spike Feresten, he had a bit called "Comedy For Stoners," where after refusing to condone drug use he provides a sketch that could truly only be appreciated by someone who was high. I mention this at the outset of my review for The Fountain because while being a bit of a prude against drugs myself, I think this film might be benefited by some form of mind-altering substance in order to get the most out of it. Perhaps the tagline, instead of "What If You Could Live Forever?," should have been, "If You Fondly Remember Seeing 2001 Baked.'" It certainly couldn't have hurt the film's grosses.

When I was going through a patch of watching films recently and not getting around to reviewing them right away, I was suddenly barraged with requests by people in my life to tell them what The Fountain, now on DVD was actually about. This recent film by Darren Aronofsky, who previously bored me with Pi, left me ambivalent with Black Swan (reviewed here!) and revolted me completely with his magnificent, if overwhelming Requiem For A Dream, is billed as a science fiction masterpiece in the vein of Stanley Kubrick's cinematic interpretation of 2001: A Space Odyssey and it certainly lives up to that reputation. Yes, it's a bit slow.

In the 1500s, Spain's Queen Isabel is beset by the forces of the Grand Inquisitor. As her empire falls under the yolk of the Inquisitor and fear overcomes her lands, she turns to Tomas, a Conquistador who she believes can help save Spain. Queen Isabel sends Tomas to the New World on a quest to find the Tree of Life amid the Mayans. Five hundred years later, Dr. Tom Creo, is searching desperately for a cure to an incurable cancer and he strikes on using the bark from a tree only he knows about. As he works to save the woman he loves, his wife Izzi, she works on a novel describing Tom's past and his future, a future that will take him to the birthplace of stars in an attempt to reincarnate the love of his life.

The Fountain, as I've explained to several people face to face, is a story that is told in a nonlinear fashion and that seems to be what throws a lot of people. In the year 2500, Tom is sailing through space with the Tree of Life toward the birthplace of stars. His little treeship is sailing along and he is having hallucinations of Izzi, his long-dead wife. In his memories of Izzi, he recalls her novel, which just happened to be the story of Tom's life, including his quest five hundred years before to find the Tree of Life and projecting the reality he is in at that moment, traveling to the birthplace of stars. Once one accepts that things are happening out of order and that Tom is an immortal, there is little truly open for debate in the film.

Yes, outside the narrative structure and the supernatural immortality and ability for Izzi to reincarnate at five hundred year intervals and somehow know Tomas's past and future, it's a remarkably straightforward film. What many people may have problems with is that this is the classic highbrow science fiction story that we do not see frequently in United States cinema any longer. Aronofsky is trying to make a thinking piece, filled with ambiguity resulting in something the viewer has to wrestle with or contemplate. It's not intended to be something that gives all of the answers to the viewer, more to inspire the asking of questions.

In that regard, it's something of a mystery why Aronofsky edited the film so it could get a PG-13 rating. This is not a movie that is being marketed toward the 13 - 18 crowd, so cutting it for content (it originally was given an "R") seems almost as esoteric as the final cut. This is science fiction - and cinema! - for people who want to experience a cinematic experience, not simply be entertained or watch big explosions on a big screen. It's not that type of film.

The Fountain is basically a character study and that is where it succeeds. Tomas or Tom or Tommy is a compelling protagonist who lives his immortal life obsessed with one great love. He never gives up on his love for Isabel or Izzi and as a result, the film effectively implies much of what the viewer never sees. In short, Tom is living his life for one great love. How do we know it is great? We see the effect it has on him. Instead of belaboring the film with defining just what Tom's love is and how deep it goes, the viewer is left to understand that through the lengths he goes for that love. And that works quite well to inform the viewer.

After all, how many men would spend a thousand years obsessing on the same woman, leaving all sense of reality behind to attempt to rescue her and rebirth her in the one place in the galaxy that might actually be possible? Short list of men, long list of women who might want said man to turn their attention to her.

Isabel is suitably distant as queen and her reincarnated self as Izzi is wonderfully emotive, expressive and loving; everything that was not fulfilled by Tomas's relationship with Isabel is evident in Tom's relationship with Izzi. The figment Tom sees while aboard the treeship is his own hallucination, memories of the woman from five hundred years prior, so her appearance then is less an expression of her character and more a reflection on Tom's. Izzi is interesting, though it is clearly Tom who dominates this story and the expression of love director Aronofsky is exploring.

Tomas is played by Hugh Jackman and this might well be his most original performance on screen since Scoop. Here, Jackman is frequently frustrated, portraying his character in all three times as a man almost always on edge. Maintaining that level of emotional uncertainty to evoke a strongly unsettling quality is not easy, but Jackman makes it seem effortless. He performs without the wry wit of his character from Scoop and without the fury he must maintain as Wolverine in the X-Men films. He is articulate, humble, charming and he bears a broken quality through much of the film that helps define his character as unlike any he has ever played.

The incarnations of Isabel are portrayed by Rachel Weisz. Right around the time I saw The Fountain, I saw Weisz in Constantine. Weisz proves her ability to act by creating an entirely different - and more convincing - persona as Isabel than she did in her role in Constantine. As Isabel, she is regal, strong and distant in the way one expects a monarch - especially a besieged one - to act. He has presence in the role and is convincing. Similarly, as Izzi, she is loving, accessible and entirely human, which fits her character perfectly. Married to Aronofsky, the director clearly knew how to get the best of out her and her performance in The Fountain shines.

The film is not going to satisfy everyone. This is definitely a piece for those who can watch films on a metaphorical level instead of a literal one. The narrative technique can be confusing and it is a strongly visual film, so it needs to be watched and paid attention to. Aronofsky and his crew are of little help; there is no commentary track on the DVD. Instead, there is a featurette (six featurettes in one) that focuses on the production challenges associated with making the film, but not much more. There is also the theatrical trailer for The Fountain. This is a very light DVD when it comes to extras and that is bound to disappoint anyone seriously confused by the work.

For other works with Rachel Weisz, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Definitely, Maybe
The Mummy Returns
The Mummy


For other food reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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