So far, I’ve heard people call this movie “dull,” “pretentious,” “too cerebral,” and “too slow.” Critics said the same thing about 2001, and nowadays it’s one of the 5 greatest scifi films ever. Possibly the most ambitious film released this decade, if not ever, The Fountain is a multi-layered love story wrapped around a science fiction-slash-fantasy riddle told with three different timelines. The director Darren Aronofsky has pulled it off again in his follow up to his first two fine films, Pi and Requiem For A Dream.
Hugh Jackman plays Tomas, a Spanish conquistador who seeks the Tree of Life in the 16th century, and Tommy, a 21st century scientist who is hellbent on developing a medicine that will cure brain cancer, and finally Tom, a 26th century space traveler in a bubble heading towards the Mayan underworld, Xibalba. Rachel Weisz plays his love as the imperious Queen Isabel and the dying wife Izzy.
The absence of an overriding narrative that predetermines a single interpretation, on how the different segments tie together, or if they are actually part of Izzy’s novel “Fountain,” and the back-and-forth pace of the film all demand far more intellectual commitment than the audience may be capable of giving, since they’ve been raised on a steady diet of callow box office blockbusters and pre-packaged entertainment. Perhaps the key to the riddle is not understanding the movie intellectually, but appreciating its dense and rich symbolism (inherited from Buddhism, Mayan and Christianity) by absorbing the experience.
Although The Fountain has flaws, (its running length at 96 minutes is far too short, the absence of patience for the average filmwatcher) its merits override them. A movie about tragedy that finally has the courage to take itself seriously with the fundamental themes of life, death, immortality, even at the cost of alienating the audience.