Monday, January 23, 2012

EvilDirector's Cynical Review of "The Fountain"

Posted by EvilDirector
*** out of **** 
"Don't go...I'm afraid."
There are two kinds of films in this world, classified by how long they have the power to cloud men's minds. Some films are meant to entrance only for as long as the lights are down and the popcorn is warm, instantly banished as soon as the audience steps back into the sun. Others, like The Shadow, are meant to weave their spell for much longer, to know what lurks in the hearts of men, to haunt their thoughts and, unfortunately in the age where the darling of cinema audiences is Jackass II, to remain for the most part invisible. Such a film is Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain, which, given it's director and troubled production history, seems destined to remain among the forgotten gems of the decade, lost with all the other films that populate the grand cinematic graveyard meant for the pictures that actually demand something in return for two hours of moving images. 

The story revolves around three distinct, yet intertwined, narratives, all stemming from a book being penned by Izzy (Rachel Weisz), a beautiful young woman stricken with terminal cancer. Her husband Tommy, played by Hugh Jackman with the same kind of intensity that made a certain mutton-chopped superhero a smash hit, is a researcher desperately trying to stay one step ahead of the clock, looking for a way to cure the incurable and save his wife from death. The theme of death, and fear of the same, runs through the picture, infuses it with a kind of dread, forces everything and everyone to watch with the same kind of escalating desperation that Tommy has to face every moment the cancer in Izzy spreads. Much of that is due to Jackman's performance, his portrayal of a brilliant man running along the razor's edge between madness and despair; it doesn't make for a happy-go-lucky film experience, but it does make for an emotional one. The Fountain is a bundle of raw nerves: painful at times, distressing at times, puzzling at times. 
Izzy's book revolves around a Spanish Conquistador named Tomas, a man devoted to his Queen, Isabella, a monarch beset by an Inquistator who would like to burn her at the stake as a heretic. Her only hope for salvation is the rumored Tree of Life, said to be buried deep in the jungles of the New World. "I will be your Eve," she promises Tomas as she sends the valiant and stubborn soldier on his way to the other side of the globe. Izzy's story, of course, mirrors her own situation, and Tommy/Tomas are clearly one and the same, each battling relentlessly against the forces of death, with Izzy/Isabella as the stakes. The third of the interweaving tales in Aronofsky's latest concerns a futuristic astronaut, traveling through space with the withering Tree of Life inside a bubble, hoping to find the key to eternity within the light of a dying star. 

What I admire most about this film is the extraordinary visual cues Aronofsky provides to link the three stories, to let us know they are all part of the same reality. The repeated use of shapes and symbols, of lighting and repeated shots, gives us more to think about than the words or the simple actions. Take, for instance, the shots that focus on warriors approaching their destinations as the camera sweeps over them, whether it be a conquistador approaching a darkened castle or a doctor driving down a freeway in a Porsche. The visuals, combined with the outstanding performances of Weisz and Jackman, make this a good picture, but it's the complexity of the narrative which gives it staying power in the mind. It is by no means a perfect film: some of the shots betray the budget cuts the film went through after Brad Pitt dropped out of the project, and it is occasionally a plodding piece, especially in the beginning, before we come to understand what each of the stories represent and how they connect to Tommy and Izzy. 

In the end, The Fountain is the kind of film that demands something from the viewer, and has some intriguing things to say about death and how humans react to it. It's very much like my favorite pulp hero, confronting you from every empty corner in every empty inevitable and unshakable as a guilty conscience. 
****- Perfect in Execution, Riveting, and Bound to Be A Classic
*** 1/2- Nearly Perfect, Riveting
***- Flawed in Some Manner, But Overall well Made, Entertaining
** 1/2- Flawed, Entertaining on a Guilty-Pleasure Level
**- More Flawed Then Not, Only Occasionally Entertaining
* - Completely Flawed, Never Entertaining

Editors note: This article was done by a special guest writer who would like to go by EvilDirector, if you want to hear more from him show some love below!

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