Vivid quest for eternal engages the intellect
There's a jittery intelligence at work in Darren Aronofsky's movies, and he's only made three so far, but you can see it and, better, feel it. It's also not an intelligence that's mean or superior -- but a questioning, rather human inquisitiveness. Even in the most sedate of images and quietest of moments, you can smell the smoke from brains on overdrive.
"The Fountain" is completely unlike his last movie, the jazzy, snappy "Requiem for a Dream," although that would have been a good title for this one, too. "Fountain" is a densely garish fever dream on the subject of immortality, which means it's actually about mortality and the way we beat back the inevitability of death with twisted logic and emotional stonewalling.
Pretty trippy stuff. You'll hear many people say this movie goes better with herbal enhancement, but that's mostly because the visuals are so astonishingly dreamlike and textured, and because the story is fractured and skips about in time and space.
Or does it? This is one of those opaquely structured, philosophical story lines that invites discussion afterward. Most movies don't make the effort. "The Fountain" will astonish and move you, or it will be maddeningly circuitous in its logic and merely annoy you. Both reactions are legitimate. Most movies are constructed for a passive audience; the responses they want are emotional, not intellectual.
Is it all a dream? The movie largely takes place in the here and now, with a scientist -- Hugh Jackman, needy and flustered -- desperately experimenting with brain tumors in apes because a cure would also help his dying wife, Rachel Weisz, who has the usual movie disease that makes her more luminous the sicker she gets.
She's also writing a novel, in gorgeously rendered calligraphy with nothing crossed out. It takes place about 500 years ago, when Queen Isabella sent off conquistadors to find the Fountain of Youth -- and about 500 years in the future, when guys live in space bubbles with trees and slurp up leaking tree sap to survive. These extreme bookends are portrayed with Jackman and Weisz as well.
OK, the sap is milky and sticky, and hairs on the tree respond to human touch, as is also shown in the movie's many extreme close-ups of Jackman and Weisz. The drippy stuff both suckles and propagates. Draw your own metaphors.
WARNER BROS. PICTURES
Hugh Jackman plays a scientist trying to find a cure for the disease suffered by his wife, played by Rachel Weitz, in "The Fountain."
"The Fountain" has a lot on its plate and is more than willing to dump it on yours. It's a thinking person's movie, and you've likely never seen anything like it, which is saying something these days. It can also be dreadfully obtuse and too clever by half, and everyone who sees it will likely have to project their own plot onto the goings-on, as if the audience has all become characters in a giddy Rashomon gag. I tend to think that the ancient and space stuff are imagined by the doctor as he reads his dead wife's manuscript -- she announces portentously that the "last chapter is not yet written" -- but others might accept everything as reality.
"The Fountain" is also quite something to look at, with deep dark spaces and golden glowing highlights, as if everyday life took place in outer space. You have to wonder about hospitals with black walls, however; seems once you go in, you aren't coming out.