The Fountain Reviews
Told in three separate time periods, Ms. Weisz and Mr. Jackman are bound together throughout time until they both learn to accept the reality of death. The film begins in the 16th century, wherein Queen Isabel of Spain (Weisz) has commanded her loyal conquistador and devoted love interest Tomas Verde (Jackman) to find the mythical Fountain of Youth, also referred to in the film by its Hebrew and Christian conceptualization, the Tree of Life, that lies far off in the jungles of New Spain. Transported suddenly to the early 21st century, we now see Jackman and Weisz as research neuroscientist Tom Creo and his dying wife Izzi, respectively. While Tom frantically searches to find a cure for his wife, Izzi has learned to accept her impending death from brain cancer and has even found beauty and purpose therein. In the third section of this story, and another 500 years into the future, we see a bald Hugh Jackman floating through space in a giant, translucent orb that contains a small oasis, with a looming tree at its center. We soon discover that the tree is still Isabel/Izzi in some form and that Tommy still desires to save her from oblivion. All of this only for the tree to suddenly die towards the end of this journey, and with it, Tommy's last attempt at conquering death. Just as the nebula he was sailing towards goes supernova, Tommy accepts the reality that death is necessary for the creation of life, and finally finds his own peace as well.
The themes of death and life that run throughout the film are primarily told through the film's stunning visual imagery. Even if one has no concern for the plot or its characters, The Fountain is worth seeing solely for its striking visual content. Light and shadow are masterfully used throughout the film to create memorable shots and convey the chiaroscuro nature of the cycle of life and death itself. Most remarkable are the sections of the film dealing with Tommy the space-traveler as he completes his cosmic journey towards the Xibalba nebula. We see him coming to terms with the deep patterns and flows of time and space as he, as a shadowy figure backlit solely by trembling starlight, performs tai chi as he sails through the void. Later on, we see him assuming the iconic lotus meditation position, a glowing bright white personage sitting tranquilly in the middle of the incomprehensibly luminescent exploding dead star. We see the darkness of the Inquisition compared to the brightness of the glowing white face of Queen Isabel, the darkness and light symbolizing death and life. The beauty of this film is that, even if one gets lost in the details of the various times and places portrayed, the message of the movie is still eloquently delivered without words, without concepts. The visuals of the film convey it alone. This is rarely seen in modern filmmaking, which is why this movie is a must-see.
Another reason to watch The Fountain is due to its unique, circular narrative structure. While most films follow a straight line from beginning to end, this movie ties three successive time periods into a loop of sorts, an infinite regress or circle that is endlessly self-perpetuating. As A.O. Scott puts it in his New York Times review of the film, the story follows a "swirling pattern that suggests a mandala or a Mayan calendar" (Scott). At the very end of the film, we discover that Tommy the space-traveler is the man who ultimately enables Tomas the conquistador to find the tree of life, which is what eventually becomes the active ingredient in scientist Tom Creo's medicine, which allows him to live the 500 years until we see him travelling through space as Tommy who, at the beginning of this cycle, enabled Tomas to find the tree of life. In other words, it's as if all of these events were happening at the same time, in a circle without beginning or end. Perhaps a more applicable symbol of the narrative structure is the ouroboros, the ancient Egyptian image of the serpent eating its own tail, itself an ancient symbol of the cyclicality of life and death. Just as the visual imagery of the film tells the same story as the dialogue, the narrative structure itself expounds the central themes of the plot as it unfolds.
The film's themes of life and death are told through a third medium as well, the film's score. The soundtrack to this film is at once beautiful and haunting. Written by Clint Mansell, the music is an ever-present companion that guides the viewer emotionally through the cycles of life, love, pain, and death, by repeating a similar musical motif with various changes and amplifications added each time around. Like a road wrapping around a mountain, while it repeatedly circular, it is also ascending and descending. The music swirls and swirls around until it crescendos right at the pinnacle of the film. Like the other structures of the film, the music delivers the themes of The Fountain straight to your subconscious, with not a single word spoken.
The Fountain is required viewing for any movie-lover. It masterfully tells its story through visual effects, circular narrative structure, and its stunning score. While the plot and themes of the film may seem opaque at times, these unique qualities make seeing The Fountain well worth your while, and rare among modern science fiction.
and rotten tomatoes has to watch it again to understand it :)
That said, after I watched it the first time I found it sparked off a thought process in my head. It started me reading and watching quite a lot 'spiritual' stuff (really not my usual thing) that was all in some way connected to this film.
So... I ended up watching the film again three weeks later. It's still not a riveting story particularly, but there is something deeper there which makes it worth watching.
I think it helps going into it to know it's more a myth than a movie.
Good thing the packaging is pretty because the writing's nothing impressive. The longest short movie in the world. Functions more as a tone poem, which would have worked has I once believed the emotions on screen. Multiple layers of story, but none of them are super interesting or saying anything new. Jumbled up, constantly repeating timeline adds nothing once you get what it's going for.