Now we come to the second-to-last film in the Summer Film Challenge and what is soon to be the second-most divisive film in Darren Aronofsky’s repertoire (because let’s face it, when Noah comes out, that’s going to take the top spot): The Fountain.
The Fountain is Aronofsky’s artsy, experimental film. (That’s right. The artsy, experimental film from the guy who directed Requiem for a Dream and Pi!) Granted, the only other Aronofsky film I’ve seen is Black Swan, so that’s the only film of Aronofsky’s that I can compare The Fountain with. And yes, if you thought Black Swan was weird, wait until you see The Fountain, because trust me, this is one hell of a trippy movie!
Quick summary: … Um… So, you have Hugh Jackman. He’s a Spanish Conquistador in the 1500s. But he’s also a genius doctor in the modern day developing new cures for cancer. Or something. Oh! and he’s married to Rachel Weisz, who’s dying of said cancer and so he’s trying to find a cure for her, but she’s also the Queen of Spain in the 1500s, and Hugh Jackman the Conquistador is trying to find a cure for Spain, which is dying because of the Inquisition, which is like cancer and which parallels the modern day version but also appears in the modern day version since Modern Rachel Weisz is writing the Conquistador story as a book, meanwhile Hugh Jackman is going crazy in both stories and his friends are like, “Dude, you need to chill out because you’re going crazy and that’s not cool” and he’s like “NO! I must find a cure to save my wife/country, and then my queen/wife will love me and we will live forever in happiness! AH HAHAHAHAHA!!” (That’s a paraphrase). You get all that? … Good! Because I didn’t even mention the third story with Bald Hugh Jackman in a giant, floating bubble. With a tree. In space.
Okay, everybody! Calm down! It’s really not that bad. This film really is just the same story told as three different genres: period fantasy, modern drama, and science-fiction. The story is simple enough that it translates very well into each different genre and while the story takes on different elements to adapt it to each genre, at its core it’s a love story: a guy doing everything he can to save the woman he loves. I think that’s ultimately what makes the film work. Because the core story is small and simple, it acts as a strong base for the audience to cling to when all the really weird stuff starts happening. It’s still a human story which is ultimately relatable and easy to become invested in, as both Jackman and Weisz strong performances to keep the emotion grounded.
Now to delve in to the weird stuff. Apart from being a love story, the film is also about the three Hugh Jackmans’ quests for the Fountain of Youth (hence the title The Fountain). Conquistador Hugh Jackman quests for the literal Fountain of Youth in Central America, Modern Hugh Jackman uses science to create a medicine that reverses the aging process, and Bald Hugh Jackman travels to the center of a nebula to resurrect his dead wife. Unsurprisingly, I found the two most engaging stories to be the Conquistador story and the sci-fi story. The film looks gorgeous and no more is that apparent than in the past and future stories, the former painting a visual portrait of Spain draped in shadows, barely but beautifully lit by the candles that are scattered around the space, as well as creating a sinister atmosphere in the dark jungles of Central America. The sci-fi story is equally beautiful from a visual stand-point as Aronofsky used macro photography (extreme close-up photography) of microorganisms with unique lighting in order to create the effect of the nebula in space. The nebula effects look like nothing I’ve ever seen before in a film. Because these effects were actually photographed, they don’t have any of the visual fingerprints that an audience member would be able to pick out of a CGI effect. It looks so much more real than any CGI effect could have made it. If they had chosen to go that route, I imagine the effects would have looked a lot like the screen saver on your computer. Thank goodness they found a unique way to pull off these effects, because they look so much better than any CGI effects could have looked at.
I also believe these two stories are also the most thematically rich of the three. Granted, all of these stories are tied together through their themes, but the past and future stories are presented with the greatest opportunity to explore these themes in a more direct way than the modern version can. While the modern version sets up some nice metaphors regarding the Fountain of Youth, rebirth and resurrection, and how it all ties to various mythologies, the genre stories literally have the characters questing after the Fountain of Youth, literally finding the Garden of Eden/Paradise, literally entering the Nebula of Life, and literally getting eaten alive by shrubbery (we’ll get to that later).
The film draws a lot of its themes not only from Mayan mythology, but also from the book of Genesis, especially concerning the Fall of Man and the separation from the Creator, which eventually led to death. On a deeper level, the story is about humanity trying to reclaim Paradise, reclaim the life we had when we lived forever with the Creator. While these are fascinating themes in themselves, what’s even more fascinating is the conclusion that Aronofsky comes to in regards to humanity’s constant quest for Paradise. The conclusion that Aronofsky comes to is that we must die before we can live forever. Though Aronofsky has never shied away from including religious themes in his films, from what I have researched Aronofsky is not a Christian, but rather comes from a cultural Jewish background. The idea of needing to die before Paradise can be attained is not a uniquely Christian idea, however because the film roots itself in the Fall of Man and the need we have to seek redemption, the Christian ideology concerning this belief, for me at least, is brought to the forefront. This made the film a much more personal film for me, more personal than any simple love story could be. The power of the film’s message came through when Jackman’s character realized that death was a necessary step to take in order for him to live forever: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” There are so many films that decry death as something to be avoided at all costs for this is the only life we have. It’s incredible to me to see a filmmaker like Aronofsky make as bold a statement as he does in this film, that death is not only an inevitable part of life, but it’s a necessary step to take and accept if one wants to live forever.
So, I think I’ve made it pretty clear when I say I really liked this film. It provided a unique way of telling a relatively straightforward story, and was supported by gorgeous visuals and very strong performances. Therefore, that should rank it at around 10/10, right? Well… remember when I mentioned carnivorous shrubbery? It’s time to address that.
Okay, the climax of this film has some incredible build-up. It’s cross-cutting between all three stories, of which all of them have hit a break-neck pace where you know some serious stuff is going to go down. Whether it be stars exploding or crazy Mayans running at Conquistador Jackman with a flaming sword, and Rachel Weisz dying while Modern Jackman races to find a cure, it’s clear that something huge and cataclysmic is going to happen! It honestly feels like the three storylines are going to collide into each other and form into some kind of behemoth, mega-movie the likes of which have never been seen or ever will be seen again! The music is at full-force with the choir and the orchestra and the WHOOAAAAMAHGOSHTHISISGONNABEEPICYEAAAH!
(SPOILER ALERT, BY THE WAY)
Then the most unexpected and surprising thing happened.
Conquistador Jackman was eaten from the inside-out by shrubbery. And it was HILARIOUS!!
Nothing, I tell you nothing, could have broken the mood in a more complete and hysterical way than the sight of bad-ass Conquistador Hugh Jackman getting consumes by shrubbery. And I mean shurbbery. It wasn’t like a giant tree grew out of him. They were tiny shrubs with little white flowers on them: the least threatening plants you’ve ever seen in your life. I know it was thematically appropriate and all, but man, did kill any kind of epic mood or momentum the film had been building up to that point!
Other than a couple of hiccups and one uproariously misguided attempt to end one of the stories in an epic fashion, this is a very thoughtful film complemented by gorgeous visuals that ambitiously aims for new heights in thematic storytelling.
Final Rating: 9/10
Well people, we’re finally at the end of the Summer Film Challenge and so far, I have not awarded a single film a 10/10 rating. This is a first as usually Tyler is the one who is harsher with his ratings than I am. Therefore, will the last film of the challenge finally achieve the perfect score, or will this challenge go down in the annals of history as the first Film Challenge where I did not award any film a perfect score? We have yet to find out (actually that’s not quite true; I already know what I’m giving the film, but you don’t! Haha!) Anyway, next: My Man Godfrey.