Sunday, May 7, 2017

Chris' #80: The Fountain (Darren Aronofsky, 2006)

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn, Mark Margolis, Sean Patrick Thomas
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writers: Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel (story credit)
Release Date: November 22, 2006

IMDB Synopsis: As a modern day scientist, Tommy is struggling with mortality, desperately searching for the medical breakthrough that will save the life of his cancer-stricken wife, Izzi.

First Time
I saw this in the theater during the first few weeks of its run; I want to say that it was the one inside the mall in Syracuse. My brother Brent was a sophomore at Le Moyne at the time and I think I watched this with him and Jeff. If it wasn't there, it may have been at Cinemapolis in Ithaca.

Why it's on the List
Right off the bat, I feel the need to defend this pick. I suppose it's because opinions on this are so divided; people either love or hate it. I'm happy to see that Glenn Kenny is on my side. I tried to track down his review of The Fountain, but couldn't find it online. There is a pull quote from his review on the front cover of my DVD copy, however, so at least his praise is etched in paper.

The Fountain marked the point when a lot of people started to turn on Darren Aronofsky. I don't remember much of Pi and Requiem for a Dream, other than the latter being very brutal. Black Swan brought on a second wave of detractors, and maybe rightfully so; it's definitely a ridiculous movie, but I don't hate it.

I was excited to rewatch The Fountain this week. The last time I saw it was nearly a decade ago and I was curious to see if it would hold up. I was twenty and a freshman in college when I saw this for the first time. Back then, I was still in a serious relationship with the girl I started dating during my freshman year of high school. I was a young romantic; the film appealed to me then because I loved the idea of an immortal couple living together for centuries. But what would I think of the film now that I'm a jaded thirty-year-old?

Visually, the film is stunning; most of the negative reviews at least acknowledge that. Critics pointed to the lack of substance behind the cinematography as the reason why they disliked it. I could understand if someone said that the relationship between Tommy and Izzi isn't exactly new territory--but how often do we see fresh stories about couples? And back to the visuals for a second; I will say that all of the effects still hold up after all these years.

On the story and the relationship between Tommy and Izzi, I feel that that still holds up for me as well. During my rewatch, I was actually a bit surprised at how emotional I got. The film just hits all the right notes for me. Neuroscientist Tommy (Hugh Jackman) is a very sullen figure. His life is consumed by the pursuit of a cure for his wife Izzi's (Rachel Weisz) cancer.

I appreciate the film's reflections on death; Izzi, unlike Tommy, does not fear it. She even suggests to him that death can be an act of creation, with the idea of planting a tree over a body's final resting spot. Izzi's hope and spiritualism balance out Tommy's fears quite well. I love her curiosity and her interest in anthropology and thanatology. The chemistry between Jackman and Weisz also works very well. You can sense a lot of history, love, and devotion. Izzi is also able to get Tommy to drop his humorless act every now and then. The film doesn't beat you over the head with depressing shit.

Rarely do I recall seeing trailers for the first time, but I can still remember what I thought when I saw this one. Based on the trailer, I was led me to believe that we'd be seeing High Jackman and Rachel Weisz at multiple stages in history--instead of the three time periods presented in the film. But I actually like that the story sticks to the three periods, and that it even rehashes many of the same shots and scenes. It creates the sense that, when we think back on our lives at the end, we'll conjure the regrets, the sweeter moments, and the harder ones.

It's clear to the audience that Tommy should've spent more time with Izzi than he did working in a lab to find her cure, but it's still heartbreaking when he tells Ellen Burstyn that he's always in the lab because of Izzi. When all you have is hope, it's difficult to step out of it. We can also understand where Izzi is coming from when she hides her declining health issues from Tommy. We've all hidden things from the people we love because we're afraid. It's very easy to relate to both characters, and to see both sides of the mortality coin: fear and acceptance. I often vacillate between the two.

As far as my own criticisms are concerned, I wish the scenes in Spain and New Spain were in spoken Spanish with English subtitles. That kind of thing bothers me in general. The whitewashing is also a valid criticism, now that it's 2017 and we're more aware of that kind of thing.  Mostly the score works for me, but I'm not a huge fan of the main theme when it hits its crescendo. It starts to feel a little hokey at that point. Also, the most far-fetched thing about this movie, in my mind, is that a grown man would go by, "Tommy."

Overall, I still love this movie and would defend it until I am dead and shot into space, heading toward a supernova.

Additional Notes/Stats
  • This is the only Aronofsky film on my list. I do have a complicated relationship with his work, but I still root for the guy. He's got another movie coming out later this year and I look forward to it.
  • No more Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, or Ellen Burstyn either, but I enjoy all three in the movies I've seen them in. None of them ever phone it in.

1 comment:

  1. I don't like Aronofsky, but I'd gladly revisit this. Didn't like it the first time. I've always held that he shouldn't write his own scripts.