I admit bias in this review, as Aronofsky is probably my favorite up and coming director today. Needless to say, The Fountain blew me away. That said… I am not sure if this is a really great movie or the worst, most pretentious piece of garbage ever caught on film.
The story centers around a surgeon (Hugh Jackman) attempting to find a cure for his dying wife (Rachel Weisz). This story is inter-cut with two other stories. The first is from a book that Weisz is writing (set in 1500 A.D.) which parallels the events happening in their lives. The second is another parallel set in 2500 A.D., and could be interpreted as the final chapter of Weisz’s book or as Jackman’s actual future. A great bedtime story for insane children only.
Aronofsky uses every trick in the book to tell these three stories. His use of symbols such as circles and continuity between nearly every shot connect the viewer back and forth between scenes that are literally light years away from each other. He also uses proximity to turn a woman into a tree, and her brain into ancient Spain. Cool.
The Fountain succeeds and fails, however, by using these techniques. The 5 year long production must have given the filmmakers time to throw too many details into the photography. The over-use of symbols and repetition seems very pretentious and carries a “so what?” theme sometimes more than intended. The very simple story gets bogged down by repeatedly using the same metaphors and allegory throughout, and in the end doesn’t really go anywhere but where I already expected. I think it would’ve been more successful as a short, leaving out the slow moving, repeated sequences.
The greatest strength of the film is the use special effects, lighting, and cinematography, which are so bizarre, that they are totally self-aware. At no time do you forget you are watching a film, which was definitely the intent. The over-saturated light is beautiful and portrays the idea of immortality wonderfully. Aronofsky often fades to pure white between sequences, waking the audience from the dark images throughout most of the film. There was only one CGI effect used. The other effects were created by filming inside a microscope, and made the entire film look like a beautiful screen saver. This was a great way to cut production costs (The budget dropped about 80% after Brad Pitt dropped out) and looked 100 times better than CGI.
Although the main story line could use some work, I do understand that Aronofsky had to do multiple re-writes for Hollywood to OK this film. Story aside, the simple use of editing out of sequence and photographic technique made this the most original film I’ve seen in a long time. I can’t decide whether to rate The Fountain a 10 or a 0, so I am forced to give it a 5. Not Aronofsky’s best work, but I’m still looking forward to the director’s cut.