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The Fountain Drowns In Grandiose Style

Tuesday, November 28, 2006
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Shock and Awe The Fountain

Dir: Darren Aronofsky

Darren Aronofsky’s first feature since his abysmal Requiem for a Dream (2000) was everything that I feared it would be. Requiem was an insanely over-the-top and pretentious study of addiction. By the end of it, as all the characters huddled into foetal positions, and the music pounded away monotonously, my head felt so hammered (no, not in the drunk-out-of-my-mind sense) I was yearning desperately for the exit. The Fountain is perhaps not as bombastic, but just as much of a failure. But at least it’s a huge, glorious failure. For Aronofsky it seems, there are no half measures.

What can one really say about The Fountain? First of all, try describing it to someone who’s never heard of it: it’s about a guy from the future piloting his bubble-ship through space to save a dying tree. And it’s also about a Spanish conquistador searching for the fountain of youth in the wilds of Guatemala. And it’s also about a scientist in the present-day searching for a cure for cancer to save his dying wife. All three men are played by Hugh Jackman. Rachel Weisz plays the Queen of Spain and Jackman’s dying wife.

Now, I give full marks to Aronofsky for ambition and sticking to his guns. It has been six years since Requiem, and apparently he was all set to make this film with Brad Pitt, until Pitt left due to creative differences. It’s a good thing, too, as Pitt would have turned a bad movie into a terrible movie. Jackman is perhaps the only saving grace; he acts with such conviction. Oh hell, he frigging acts his brains out. But it’s always painful to see good actors try so hard in a film that’s not worth the effort. Some wonderful stylistic touches can’t save the fact that the story is threadbare – which is all the more amazing as there are three distinct stories.

The biggest problem with The Fountain is that it proposes to be mind-blowing and fantastical, a work that will reveal stunning insights on the human condition – but ends up clichéd and boring. The yogic and tai chi positions that Jackman adopts in his bubble-ship can’t help but look like new age silliness, the bath-tub love scene is cheesy and Rachel Weisz’s leather-bound notebook, with its perfect calligraphy, feels like a forced plot device. These are perhaps minor points, but too many minor quibbles spoil the whole. And as Sarah pointed out while watching – isn’t it a little hard to star-gaze when it’s snowing?

This is one of those movies that feels like it grew out of a late-night conversation among friends: “Wouldn’t it be cool if we started here in 16th century Spain, and ended up here a thousand years later…”. Only instead of forgetting about it the next morning, they decided to spend six years of their lives making it. Compared to films like Solaris (both versions), 2001: A Space Odyssey or Gattaca, The Fountain struggles to keep afloat. It is so totally devoid of humour, meaningful character development or interesting ideas that even at 90 minutes, it feels twice as long.

I suppose the lesson to be learned here is that when setting out to create a visionary work of cinema, you should try to have an interesting vision. The circle of life, you can’t cheat death, blah, blah, blah – I’m not saying these aren’t lofty ideas for a movie, but they have been handled in such a ham-fisted way that it’s hard to take them seriously. The present-day scenes especially feel like an above-average ER episode. Oh well, I hope Aronofsky has got it out of his system, so he can move on to bigger and better – well, at least move on to other things. llewopemearg

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. James17930 permalink
    Tuesday, November 28, 2006 11:58 am

    It’s really too bad — pretty much everyone is saying this movie sucks. The preview looked really good and I was looking forward to seeing it.

    But, alas, I can’t bring myself to spend money on it now.

  2. Wednesday, November 29, 2006 4:33 am

    “I can’t bring myself to spend money on this.”

    I’ve never understood this sentiment. For what it is, I really don’t think seeing a movie is expensive, financially. I can see not wanting to spending the time on a movie, but the small amount of money a ticket costs, that I’d be willling to risk on anything that looks even remotely interesting.

    And with this one, there’s no question whether or not I’d risk the time. This one I will see as soon as it gets here (if it gets here at all). A few of the online critics that I enjoy the most have been saying it’s a work of film genius. Months ago, back when it’d had only its first few screenings, Devin at CHUD.com declared that it was the best thing he’d seen all year, a masterpiece, and he suggestd it would follow the Blade Runner path: initially panned by critics and a bomb at the box office, but considered an absolute classic in ten years time.

    Hey, I haven’t seen it, so maybe I’ll disagree with him and agree with graeme (if I get to see it at all — come on, Korea. Do the right thing). But then, I already hugely disagree with Graeme on Requiem for a Dream, and CHUD is one of the few places out there to get how freakin’ great Ocean’s Twelve was…

    Oh, perhaps I should also mention: I haven’t read graeme’s review, and I won’t, until I’ve seen the movie for myself. So maybe the title and the opening paragraph and James’ response are all misleading, and he actually really dug it. Guess I’ll find that out later.

  3. Wednesday, November 29, 2006 8:51 am

    What’ll they be saying in ten year’s time? I don’t know, maybe Aaronofsky will have released a director’s cut that flushes out the story more, like Scott did with Blade Runner. I think the difference with Blade Runner is that the concept was pretty solid from the get-go, so there was room for improvement.

    In the end it all comes down to personal taste. He’s just not a filmmaker that I enjoy. Pi, Requiem, and now The Fountain – if this is supposed to be the new Kubrick, then the next 30 years are going to be rough for me.

    And I really have to re-watch Ocean’s Twelve – I was high on painkillers the first time round and had absolutely no idea what the hell was going on.

  4. James17930 permalink
    Wednesday, November 29, 2006 10:36 am

    I liked Pi. And Requiem was okay until the stupid awful ending.

    Hey — remember how we were going to do a post where one of us defends a movie the other two think is horrible? Maybe we just found Beal’s flick . . .

  5. Wednesday, November 29, 2006 10:47 am

    Could do, but you guys gotta realize you’ll be fighting for the South. Enough time has passed for the world to make up it’s mind on Requiem, and the world has declared it to the 58th best movie of all time.

  6. Wednesday, November 29, 2006 11:41 am

    Yeah, but most of the world also watches CSI and American Idol, so if you want to throw yourself in with that lot, go right ahead.

  7. Wednesday, November 29, 2006 12:27 pm

    Yeah, something tells me that American Idol and Requiem for a Dream don’t have quite the same audience.

  8. James17930 permalink
    Wednesday, November 29, 2006 12:33 pm

    CSI is an acronym — it stands for ‘Crime Scene Investigation.’

  9. Wednesday, November 29, 2006 9:26 pm

    Mm, yes. An astute point there, James.

  10. Sarah P permalink
    Thursday, November 30, 2006 10:28 am

    Beal, I really and truely hope that you do like The Fountain. It’s rather arrogant of me, but I am genuinely curious to know what someone would enjoy about it. As for Requiem, Graeme said I wouldn’t want to see it, and just about everyone else has said he was right. But, I do think that there are cycles of movies that go in and out of “style” (for lack of a better word), and when they’re new, they’re much more appreciated than when the style is old and tired. I think that’s was Aaronofsky suffers from in The Fountain…a lack of freshness. We’re all kinda done with the uber-serious, don’t-laugh-if-your-life-depends-upon-it, life & death & yoga & the cosmos stories. But maybe that’s just me.

    And to confess, I really didn’t like Pi either.

  11. Monday, December 4, 2006 12:37 am

    I too skipped over the bulk of this post, as I haven’t seen The Fountain, but I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Naturally, I don’t have a whole lot to contribute at this point. I just thought I’d throw in my two cents worth and say that I thought Requiem for a dream was a decent movie. And π, well that was a great movie.

    Oh thirtyfive. Press return…

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