Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Premise: Tom (Hugh Jackman), a cancer researcher, struggles to find a cure for his wife’s (Rachel Weisz) condition. At the same time she writes a fantasy story about a conquistador searching for the fountain of youth to save his loved one. The film alternates between the story in the real world and the story in the fantasy world.
What Works: The film uses formalistic techniques, creatively cross cutting between the narratives in ways that fill in the gaps between the two stories and create greater understanding about each other. The Fountain is able to be more than just a simple story and engages multiple layers and themes including love, creativity, and mortality and connects them in ways that are meaningful. The film is serious and thoughtful about its subject matter, and does not tap into these deep themes just for the appearance of sophistication. Rather, The Fountain goes for deeper, authentic connections between the two stories and their themes. The film is deeply unified and highly symbolic, much like the conclusion of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The acting in the film is very good, particularly by Rachael Weisz as Izzie. It is an understated performance that demands great and subtle versatility and she maintains the character’s dignity and does not use cancer as an easy way of achieving pathos appeal.
What Doesn’t: The weakest element of the story is its execution of Tom’s grief. His story makes great leaps; at one point he possesses a Dr. Frankenstein-like obsession to defeat death but then he moves on from it with little explanation or dramatic cause. The ending of the film spends most of its time in the fantasy, which is effective and very beautiful but does not display the kind of effective cross cutting The Fountain displays early in the film.
Bottom Line: The Fountain is a challenging film, the kind of movie that will polarize its audience with some loving it and others hating it with few in between. Those who found pleasure in What Dreams May Come, The Cell, and 2001: A Space Odyssey will enjoy the picture. For those who understand it, The Fountain is a great, romantic story in which love and creativity trump death.
Episode: #320 (December 26, 2010)