Director Darren Aronofsky recently made an appearance at an L.A. press screening and confessed it was best 'just to let `The Fountain` do you.â?� There was the sense that he didn't really expect anyone to get his latest opus, an existential sci-fi epic. Like he had resigned himself to that and yet was also OK with that outcome. It's that faith in his artistic vision ' a faith that's evident during every second of The Fountain ' that sustains the movie even when you have no idea what the hell is going down. And that's often. Pretty much all the time. Seriously.
The story, which takes place during three different eras, opens in the 16th century with conquistador Tomas (Hugh Jackman) being dispatched by Spanish Queen Isabel (Rachel Weisz) to the New World where he's to find the biblical Tree of Life; its sap offers the promise of immortality, so, for all intents and purposes, it's the Fountain of Youth ' hence the movie's title. We quickly jump to the 26th century, where a bald Tomas ' who is not Tomas, but a pale-skinned Buddhist named Tom Creo (Jackman again) ' is traveling through space in a transparent ball of what may or may not be mental energy. Inside this sort of snow-globe world grows the Tree of Life; together, the two are barreling toward the Xibalba nebula, which the Mayans believed was their underworld. Confused yet? Well, now we get thrown back to the 21st century, where Tommy (Jackman, yet again) is a scientist searching for a cure to the cancer that is killing his beloved wife Izzi (Weisz again). His cure might lie in fragments of a mysterious South American tree that seem to possess restorative properties.
The mystery to unravel what is real, who is really who and how they're interconnected is what drives this exploration of reality that incorporates theology of every persuasion. See, Queen Isabel and her servant Tomas, as real as they seem, might actually be characters in a novel called The Fountain that Izzi is writing as she dies. Tommy, who stumbles upon a cure for Izzi too late, grows determined to beat this 'death,â?� which he says is a disease and thus has a cure like any other disease. Therefore, does this mean that Tom Creo is actually Tommy, living 5,000 years subsequent to the discovery of this cure and now capable of propelling himself through space on his way to something like nirvana?
Of course, there's always the possibility that Tomas, Tommy and Tom are all reincarnations of the same soul, that Isabel and Izzi are likewise, and that The Fountain is a quest to reunite in eternity with one's soulmate. Any of these conclusions could be right. In fact, they are. All of them. And, at the same time, they're all wrong.
Aronofsky has crafted a nonsensical tale convoluted by mysticism, metafiction and ambiguities. It's a mental riddle that demands multiple viewings, and with each of those viewings layers will be peeled away. But even as that happens, expect more layers to appear. A lot of criticism has been heaped on The Fountain for its confusing narrative that promotes nothing but debate, but that might be its biggest success. Its failure comes from the fact that Warner Bros. is promoting it like a big-budget epic love story across time and space, which might be true. It's bigger than all of that and Aronofsky knows the answer. The question is, are you willing to work for it?