United States, 2006
U.S. Release Date:
PG-13 (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio:
Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn, Mark Margolis, Cliff Curtis, Sean Patrick Thomas, Donna Murphy, Ethan Suplee
The Fountain is Darren Aronofsky trying to be Stanley Kubrick. However, while Aronofsky is able to match Kubrick frame-by-frame for ending ambiguity, that's one of the few areas in which The Fountain keeps pace with 2001. Technically, this is an impressive motion picture, but the fragmented story results in poor character development and Aronofsky's clinical approach limits identification. The overall experience fails to satisfy on a basic level. This is one of those films it's easier to be impressed with than it is to like.
The Fountain takes place in three eras: the 16th century, the 21st century, and the 26th century. The majority of the narrative transpires in a contemporary setting, where drug developer Tommy Creo (Hugh Jackman) is trying to save his wife Izzy (Rachel Weisz), who is afflicted with an inoperable brain tumor. Izzy is writing a book about a 1500s quest for the Fountain of Youth in New Spain, with Queen Isabel (Weisz) sending a Conquistador (Jackman) to find it. Finally, there are flash-forwards to the future where a bald man (Jackman) is taking a space trip in the company of a giant tree. One of the objectives of The Fountain is to reveal the connective tissue between these stories.
There's little doubt this is an ambitious effort, but one can argue that Aronofsky's vision has exceeded his ability to bring it to the screen within the allotted running time. The Fountain isn't as perplexing or as profound as it would like us to believe. The conclusion, rather than revealing some great truth or leading to a moment of transcendent awe, comes across as little more than a quasi-mystical sleight of hand. The emotional content is almost entirely absent. At the core of the movie is Tommy's desperate obsession to save his wife. However, because the characters are so thinly drawn and poorly illuminated, we don't connect with Tommy's pain. We recognize it in an abstract fashion, but it doesn't reach us. That puts viewers in the position of asking: So what?
The acting by Jackman and Weisz, is fine, and the visuals are striking without being ostentatious, but there's a feeling about this movie that the Emperor has no clothing. However, I would rather experience an interesting failure like this than a "success" that displays neither ambition nor vision. The Fountain has both qualities, even if they remain only partially realized.