Written and Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Rachel Weisz, Hugh Jackman, Ellen Burstyn, Mark Margolis
Rated: PG-13 for some intense sequences of violent action, some sensuality and language. (edited for re-rating; originally R)
Parental notes: This is a reasonable PG-13 film, but because of its philosophical nature it will likely not appeal to preteens.
Darren Aronofsky is an unusual filmmaker. His movies are dreamlike explorations of deep philosophical questions, and not for everyone. “The Fountain” is a complex, interweaving story about the nature of life, death, and rebirth, and a stunning visual masterpiece.
The three time lines are each in a different millennium, but in all of them Hugh Jackman plays a man on a quest, while Rachel Weisz plays the woman he loves. In the 16th century, Conquistador Tomas Creo is sent by the embattled Queen Isobel of Spain to South America to find the tree of life. She tells him that together, they will live forever, and that when he returns with the sap of the Tree, she will be his Eve. In 2006, cancer researcher Tommy Creo struggles to find a cure for the brain cancer which is killing his beloved wife, Izzie. In the distant future, astronaut Tom voyages toward the Xibalba nebula in a transparent sphere containing a massive, dying tree.
The film weaves back and forth between all three stories, and connections appear and merge between them. Phrases and sentences are repeated over and over: “finish it,” “death is the road to awe.” Xibalba, the Mayan afterworld, also comes up repeatedly: Tomas finds himself in a temple identified with it, Izzie writes about it in her novel, and Tom is on his way toward the nebula the Mayans believed was the place itself. The idea of the fountain of youth or the tree of life — an entity which can prolong life indefinitely — repeats itself as well. Tomas and Tommy want to find a substance which will allow Isobel/Izzie to live forever in spite of the factors arrayed against her; Tom is journeying with a somewhat sentient, giant tree to whom he speaks and whose bark he eats. Tommy and Tomas share the same last name: Creo, which is Latin for “I believe.”
The exact relationship between the three story lines is unclear. Is the story of Conquistador Tomas actually the novel Izzie is writing, or are Izzie and Tommy the reincarnations of Isobel and Tomas? Is Tom actually Tommy, kept young by the Tree, or is the storyline about Tom actually an allegory for Tommy’s gradual acceptance of the nature of death?
One of the powerful things about “The Fountain” is that it is up to the viewer to decode the film and decide on a meaningful interpretation. Aronofsky does not attempt to force his own interpretation on us. The film’s visual beauty is equally powerful. Aronofsky has an interesting eye for composition, and “The Fountain” is full of absolutely stunning vistas, from the nebula and star field Tom travels through to the jungles of South America where Tomas finds himself. There are countless lovely details, such as the tree root motif on Queen Isobel’s dress, which add to the resonance between the story lines
“The Fountain” is not a film for those simply seeking a few hours of entertainment. It is for moviegoers looking for something beautiful, something unusual. It challenges you to think about life and death and to come to terms with them.