Note: The Fountain is best experienced going in completely blind but I’ll do my best to explore Aronofsky’s third and most daring film with regard to those who have yet to see it.
Most viewers just couldn’t wrap their heads around the story of The Fountain and, similarly, critics found this spiritual love story to be too far fetched and heavy handed. The Fountain is an all time favorite film for some, myself included, but also has a jarring 51% on Rotten Tomatoes – don’t let this cloud your judgement. It’s certainly Mr. Aronofsky’s most divisive film but, in my opinion, possibly his best ever.
Main character Tom Creo, wonderfully acted by Hugh Jackman, leads a research team who attempt to stop the growth of a lab primate’s brain tumor. While this would be an incredible breakthrough for his team and the world of medicine, Tom is much more determined than anyone for finding a cure in order to save the life of his terminally ill wife Izzi (Rachel Weisz). Tom’s extreme fixations on finding a cure result in him spending the majority of his time working in the lab rather than enjoying the possible last moments on Earth that he has with wife.
Interwoven into this narrative is a short story written by Izzi titled The Fountain which she asks Tom to finish after the event of her inevitable passing. This short is set in 16th century Spain and follows conquistador Thomas, also played by Jackman, who was sent to the New World by the Queen of Spain, played by Weisz as well, to find the fountain of youth hidden deep in a Mayan temple.
The third narrative in the film sees Jackman play space traveler Tommy destined for the distant nebula of Xibalba inside a bubble holding solely him and a tree. Xibalba is referenced in the prime storyline, let’s call it, when Izzi informs Tom that it exists as the underworld for the Mayans. While some speculate that this branch of the story is set in the distant future, I, as some others do, view it as Tom’s conclusion to Izzi’s short story visualized on the screen.
In the prime storyline Tom loses his wife to the illness and we see him plant a seed on the grounds of his grave. This tree that Tommy the space traveler voyages with is Izzi and his wish to enter Xibalba, once again the underworld for the Mayans, represents Tom Creo’s desire to spend eternal life with his wife after her passing.
The story of the space travel and conquistador are most likely fictitious – no one knows this for sure – but Aronofsky plays them off as actual occurrences; as if those characters are former and later incarnations of Tom and Izzi. In the short story The Fountain, the Queen gives her conquistador a ring which she asks to return back to her when he has found the key to eternal life; he never returns.
In the prime story of the film, Tom the scientists loses his wedding ring, symbolic for strong and lasting love, before performing surgery and his wife soon passes.The space voyager storyline sees him pull out a ring moments before entering the nebula of Xibalba. Could it be the ring which he lost before surgery or the ring in which the Queen gives him promising to not return with it until he has found the fountain of youth? Like most of The Fountain, it’s all left up to interpretation.
Without a doubt this is Mr.Aronofsky’s most gorgeous film to date. CGI was hardly used in the making of this film resulting in this timeless look and feel of the film which, visually, still holds up 11 years after its release. Sequences in The Fountain transcend the human experience, and due to outstanding visual effects, these god like, unworldly sequences are absolutely mesmerizing.
The Fountain is a beautiful story, both narratively and visually, but only so if you want it to be. If you don’t, it could be the most pretentious movie experience, but if you do, which I hope those who haven’t seen the film will try the best to, it’s a heart-tugging, emotional, spiritual experience unlike any you’ve seen before.