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Aronofsky’s ‘Fountain’ thrills, confuses viewers

Marty Schroeder | Tuesday, November 28, 2006

When a Christian angel in the guise of a Mayan warrior bows down before a time-traveling man who bears a striking resemblance to a Buddha, there is something heavy going on. In Darren Aronofsky’s latest release, “The Fountain,” the director plays around with religion, what it means to die and, more importantly, with what it means to live.

Starring Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz, “The Fountain” tells a tale of two lovers through three time periods. The film opens with Tomas, a conquistador attempting to scale a Mayan pyramid.

He makes it to the top, encountering a man with a burning sword standing guard at a tree. The film then fast-forwards to the present day, where Tommy is trying to save his wife Isabel [Izzi] from cancer.

“The Fountain” then goes on to tell the story of Thomas, a man who is traveling through space haunted and/or visited by specters of his past. Jackman plays all three of the male leads in each time period and Weisz does the same for Isabel/Izzi.

The story lines are all connected rather tenuously. The primary concern of Aronofsky is not so much to tell a story that is easy to follow. His concern is to tell a story that deals with issues and meanings bigger than ourselves. Life, death, the possibility of rebirth and the possibility of eternal life and love are the themes that Aronofsky explores in this film through stunning visuals and wonderful performances from both Jackman and Weisz.

The visuals are the strongest aspect of the film, from the jungles of South and Central America to the cosmos of the third chapter of the story. “The Fountain” travels from the court of the Spanish Inquisition, through jungles, to the frustration of modern relationships and even the stars, and weaves them all into a stunning array of light and sound. The narrative is not supposed to be understood coherently. What little there is in the way of a story consists of the love two people have for each other and the strength it takes to stay and say goodbye.

The film is a departure for Aronofsky, whose previous films included 1998’s “Pi” and his entrance to mass respectability, 2000’s ‘Requiem For a Dream.” Always one to play around with imagery, he was one of the main users of the hip-hop montage effect, and he has a maintained distinctive visual style. However, his narratives have always been realistically fantastical.

“The Fountain” is not realistic, and is almost purely a sensory experience. Understanding is not an issue, as the film is simply something to be experienced.

Perhaps the most stunning sequence of the film is the climax, which attempts to tie the three narrative threads together. It is an explosion of light, sound and emotion. Alongside this spectacle, however, is the fact that the story is rather sporadic and the three threads never really quite fit together in a completely coherent way.

If suspension of disbelief is an easy task, then this is a film to see – its visuals more than make up for the incoherent narrative.

One should also consider that Aronofsky never meant for “The Fountain” to be coherent. This is a film meant to be enjoyed and savored, rather than simply understood.

“The Fountain” is why we go to theaters, sit in the dark and watch movies. If every film were able to match this in terms of sensory pleasure, it could hardly be considered a bad thing.

When you walk into the theater, don’t worry about the boy getting the girl or the hero vanquishing his foe at the end. All audiences need worry about is whether or not they can see the screen clearly. All the rest is periphery.