Length: 96 minutes
Release Date: November 22, 2006
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Genre: Drama / Romance / Sci-Fi
“The Fountain” is an epic tale of love, loss and the search for a way to spend eternity with that one special person. Stars Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz each play multiple characters in a storyline that takes place in the present but spans more than 1,000 years. In the present day sequences, Jackman plays Tommy, a medical researcher who searches for a cure as his wife, Isabel, dies from cancer.
As Isabel prepares for her death, she writes a book in which Tomas (Jackman), a Mayan conquistador, searches for the tree of life to save his queen (Weisz). When Tommy’s study of trees does not yield a cure, he makes a deathbed promise to Isabel to finish the book that she started. In the futuristic final chapter that Tommy writes to fulfill his promise, he depicts himself as Tom Creo. Tom is a man who travels through space in a bubble with a tree. The tree portrayed is the Tree of Life, which Tomas, the conquistador, searched for in the beginning chapters of Isabel’s book. In this final chapter, Tom is travelling to take the tree to a nebula in the sky that is believed to be the Mayan origin of life.
Aronofsky’s “The Fountain” takes a complicated storyline and simplifies it so that it can be easily understood by audiences. As the film progresses, it becomes obvious that only one version of Tommy and Isabel can be real. Though all three storylines intertwine, the one that takes place in the present day is the real one. In each of the other two storylines, the theme of magic is present. Though Tommy seeks to help his wife beat cancer, he fails, and Isabel tragically dies. Despite this, Tommy holds on to his belief that death can be beaten. This translates into the final futuristic chapter of Isabel’s book.
The way that Aronofsky cuts between storylines can be somewhat jarring and confusing. Despite the changes in setting between the real and fictional worlds of the characters, the storyline remains linear throughout the film. Audiences are aided in their understanding of the film by fantastic performances on the part of stars Jackman and Weisz. Each actor fully embodies the different but related personalities of each character, creating definition between sequences. The differences in how each character looks, such as Jackman’s varying hairstyles, help to visually distinguish the characters in the minds of audiences.
When “The Fountain” was originally written for the screen, the film was slated to have a $95 million production budget. After the film was shelved, Aronofsky rewrote the script. The new version of the film was given a reduced $35 million budget. To accommodate the reduced budget, Aronofsky chose to use micro-photography to capture chemical reactions on petri dishes rather than computer-generated effects. By utilizing practical effects, Aronofsky was able to make the film at a lower cost. This also gave the film a more organic feel, helping to keep the focus on the characters in the film versus fantastically enhanced surroundings. The lack of CGI assists the audience in connecting to the characters on an emotional level as the film does not depend on visual effects to tell the story.
For “The Fountain,” Aronofsky abandons almost all elements of traditional storyline structure. He instead created an abstract film that successfully loops together three different storylines from different time periods into one cohesive, linear tale. Once the audience reaches the second segment of the film where Tommy and Isabel are in the present, the method behind how the storyline functions becomes clear. The continuing themes throughout the film, along with the use of the tree, a central plot device in all three storylines, help to create continuity between the different time periods. By the time the third segment of the film concludes, which is the futuristic return of the Tree of Life to the nebula in space, the full magnitude of the story is made apparent along with the film’s continual theme: that love can be eternal even if life is not.
Taken separately, the three stories that the film explores can be seen as stand-alone romantic tales of a hero searching for a way to make the love of his life eternal. Put together, these three stories combine to create a story of realism and imagination that explores the depths of love and devotion between two people. Beautiful, poignant performances by Jackman and Weisz help to turn the tale into a genuinely believable love story for audiences. Though the storyline is heartbreaking for both Tommy and the audience, the ending leaves viewers with the hope that love can exist and survive out of reach of the clutches of death.
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