Darren Aronofsky's first feature, Pi, is one of the finest representations of everything I love about low-budget indie films. It's gritty, suspenseful, unpredictable; and it's clear that every dollar was well spent. It reminded me of watching Tetsuo the Iron Man, only with a full story this time around.
Whereas Pi gave a clue to the immense talent of Aronofsky, it was fully realized in his next project, Requiem for a Dream -- a diamond-hard edged chronicling of the highs and rock bottom lows of three drug addicts. With its fast pace and clever visual style, it may be the greatest movie you won't be able to watch more than once. Honestly, the characters go down such a dark road that had they died by the end you'd have felt less sorry for them. Still, I had to own it on DVD because it's just that amazing.
So, you can imagine how much I've been anticipating Aronofsky's third movie. Especially since it was rumored for a time that he would direct a Batman Beyond movie, but then passed on it to finish something that was more "personal" to him. A full SIX YEARS after Requiem for a Dream, he delivers to us The Fountain.
Darren Aronofsky gave one of the first screenings here in Austin, TX at Fantastic Fest (one of our city's week-long film festivals, this one themed around sci-fi and horror films) where he did a Q&A afterward. I was real sorry to have missed that particular screening because I know that having him there would've been the best way to watch The Fountain
I think that would be the ONLY way to watch The Fountain. At least that way you'd have somebody in the room who could (possibly) give you an answer the for numerous times you'd ask "What the hell is this $#!&!!!!!!!"
The Fountain goes on the books with The Chronicles of Riddick as the kind of disasters you get when talented, small-budget directors get too much money. It's bloated, self-indulgent and when you get down to it, there's not much there. The Fountain isn't even a whole movie, it's three movie fragments with the flimsiest of connections between them.
The conquistador segment is the most interesting (visually anyway) but also the shortest. It's broken up throughout the movie but if you put it all together it may be as long as 15 minutes, tops. It could've easily been the penultimate climax of a much better movie. Even as it is, a good editor could hook up with an up-and-coming band and turn it into a kickass music video.
The "modern-day" segment is the most fleshed out, and the only place there's any semblance of a narrative. Hugh Jackman is a charismatic and hugely talented actor, as evidenced by his multiple Tony awards. And there's no doubt that there would be NO X-Men movie franchise if not for the way he brought Wolverine to life.
I'd place him firmly in league with actors like Val Kilmer, Alec Baldwin and Brad Pitt, who're really character actors with leading man looks. Give them a juicy character and they'll steal the movie away with just few memorable lines of dialogue; (ex: "I'll be your huckleberry." "Coffee is for closers!" "Second rule of Fight Club: YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT FIGHT CLUB!"). But unlike Denzel Washington or even Tom Cruise, in the role of an everyday Joe they're fairly bland and forgettable (ex: Meet Joe Black, At First Sight). Hugh Jackman is no exception.
Tommy Creo begins the movie as a guy frantically trying to save his wife and ends the movie the same way, with no character development in between. He's a shell with no distinguishing personality for us to identify with. You root for him by default but only from a distance with no emotional attachment to the outcome. I suppose you can't blame Jackman really for not giving what wasn't in the script in the first place. It's clear that Aronofsky was only using this as build-up to the movie's third segment.
Though interwoven in bits throughout the movie, the final 20 minutes is a segment where Tom is floating through space in a metaphysical bubble in search of the ever-elusive Tree of Life.
Wearing a bald skincap and silk pajamas, Hugh Jackman is way too reminiscent of one of David Carradine's dream sequences from ‘Kung Fu' to be taken seriously. Despite whatever Aronofsky was going for, the image is too inescapable. Sad because it's obvious that the trippy imagery was all he was really concerned with.
He's taken every opportunity to let anyone who'll listen know that he painstakingly did all the visuals with photographic techniques and NOT computers. The result is a resounding "So what?!!" The final product still comes off as what you get when a newbie stumbles into a new suite of filters for Adobe After Effects and can't restrain himself. As a movie, it's, um . . . a really good screensaver!
After so much navel-gazing, the bubble takes off at high speed and launches us into an explosive, yet ultimately anti-climactic conclusion. What was it all about, this meaning of life, love, death and rebirth? The answer The Fountain gives us is nothing you don't know already. Apparently this a future where texts of Buddhist teachings no longer exist, otherwise Tom could've saved himself (and us) a lot of time and trouble.
In its attempt to be profound, The Fountain is very pretentious, tedious and downright silly. A lot like watching an extended remix of a Skittles commercial. While the movie's official tagline may be "What if you could live forever?", I think a more apt one would be "Taste the rainbow."