beautiful meditation on life, love and death or pretentious
metaphysical twaddle? Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain is essentially
both, a formidably complex narrative that positions the viewer to
either completely engage with or utterly resist its romantic vision.
Over three time periods, each 500 years apart, the story relates a
quest for the Tree of Life, with Jackman and Weisz as lovers,
variously named Tomas, Tommy and Tom, Isabel and Izzi. In the 16th
Century, bearded, brooding Tomas is a Spanish conquistador,
dispatched to the New World by Queen Isabel, who is being threatened
by the Inquisition. Carving his way through Mayan warriors and a
sword wielding priest to a meeting with the Tree, he is unswerving
in his devotion to the cause.
In a more-or-less contemporary looking 21st Century, Tommy Creo is a
scientist whose novelist wife Izzi is dying from a brain tumour.
Tommy’s medical experiments on monkeys conjure a miraculous
side-effect that he believes may save her, but his zealous pursuit
of the cure shortens their remaining time together. The 16th Century
episode is now shown to be the plot of Izzy’s novel, yet Aronofsky
never depicts these scenes as any less ‘real’ than any of the
Finally, in the 26th Century, a bald, seemingly Zen-inspired
astronaut, Tom – who may or may not be the same man, or simply a
recurring, mythical figure – guides, confides in and eats from a
giant celestial tree which is travelling towards the far-off nebula
Xibalba (conceived as an afterlife by the ancient Mayans), all the
while reflecting on his missing soulmate and a date with destiny.
Shifting easily between his three time periods with a lyrical
wooziness, Aronofsky shoots everything, even the most mundane
aspects of the present day, in a seductive anti-realist style. Yet
the marvel of the imagery is never matched by the import of his
message, that of love challenging death. Or whatever ideas or
sensations it is that the director intends to provoke.
It’s all frustratingly indistinct and the characters’ portentous
platitudes, such as “death is the path to awe”, only antagonise
further. Jackman displays admirable range and emotes powerfully as a
man losing the love of his life, but Weisz is straitjacketed in a
role that asks little of her but to look beautiful and fragile.
Stunning to look at and watchable throughout, The Fountain
nonetheless alienates with its opacity and conceited self-regard