Posted on 12/06/06 02:26 PM
"Death is the road to awe"
How do I even begin to review a film like this? It's gotten mixed reviews likely because of it's plot which can be seen as too confusing, confusing because it's not actually developed it's just there to stun you, or any number of things, but in reality you don't need to understand writer/director Darren Aronofsky's intentions, nor do I think he needs you to in order to appreciate the film for what it is. Is there one solid explanation of it? Probably not, it's for the audience member to decide. But those who don't like films that are left up to interpretation, or aren't completed spelled out for you, consider yourselves warned.
Let's start with the basics, there are three time periods depicted, with two characters played by the same actors (Hugh Jackman, and Aronofsky's fiance Rachel Weisz) that run throughout each storyline, these may or may not be the same people throughout. The themes are presented are wide ranging but mostly focus on immortality, spirituality, death, and grief the way these are written are shown to be influenced from any number of Western and Eastern religions as well as popular folklore.
The main storyline takes place in a time around our own (Aronofsky apparently determined it to be 2000) in which Jackman plays Tommy, a medical resercher testing different substances in order to cure rare forms of cancer. This is an impassioned quest for Tommy as his wife Izzi, played by Weisz is dying of cancer, and he is trying desperately to save her. Izzi begins to lose fear of death as Tommy's fear of losing her greatly increases. She's writing a book that shares the same title as the movie, and begins to tell Tommy of a Nebula she's observing that was pinpointed as the Underworld by the Mayan religion. While she is in the hospital she tells him that he must write the last chapter of the book for her.
As Tommy reads the book it tells of the earlier time period in 16th century Spain during the time of the Inquisition. In this Weisz, the Queen charges Jackman's Conquistador Thomas with a quest to find the Tree of Life in Central America ("New Spain").
The third timeline appears to present Tommy as a futuristic astronaut, traveling through space to bring new life to the Tree in the Nebula Izzi told him of, he is haunted by the 2000 timeline suggesting it is the same character, trying desperately to hang on to this incarnation of his wife.
Under any interpretations, the film can be seen more as visual poetry (similar to Terrence Malick's The New World in this way), with some impassioned acting, particularly that of Jackman, a beautifully haunting score by Clint Mansell (who made the music to Aronofsky's breakthrough film Requiem for a Dream in 2000), and some breathtaking visuals in the past and future timelines.
When I began getting pysched for this film I thought to myself that the modern day time period lacked the visual edge that the other tow had and it would be the least interesting, then hearing that it's length dominates the film's relatively short 96min run time disappointed me, by the time I saw it I was wishing there was more to it. The astounding visuals of the other two are compelling, but the 2000 time has the best acting (including a supporting part written for Requiem's star Ellen Burstyn) and is just so heartbreaking. Weisz is top notch as always but Jackman who I've been a fan of for awhile gives the performance of his career as the tortured husband.
Speaking of it's visuals, the film contains no CGI, Aronofsky was fascinated by the work of an artist who took microphotographs of chemical reactions in petri dishes, decided to use a similar look to represent the 2500 timeline, in order to give it a "timeless quality" so that CG wouldn't look outdated by next year, it likely will have that effect.
Aronofsky's own personal journey to make this film that took six years no doubt reflects Tommy's epic struggle within the film, funny how Aronofsky's life would reflect what he'd already written. When the project ballooned out of control over enthusiasm for the hot director and with Brad Pitt signed on, and eventually Warner Brothers pulled the plug and left Darren crushed and basically broken down, until he someday thought of a way to do it better on a lesser budget. It was a film that needed studio money to be made, but was never intended to be a big studio release, it will polarize people and while not exactly what I expected, I loved it.
My take is that it's an interpretation of the grief cycle, or the dreams of immortality, but in any case it certainly is an experience to behold.
#3 of the year for me behind United 93 and Flags of Our Fathers, but it may tie FOOF in time, and U93 is just untouchable I'd say.