Death is often mandatory in romantic tragedies, but “The Fountain’s” unique take on its intricacies exceeds the normal boundaries of a typical love story. Through a spiritual and ethereal exploration of love literally throughout the ages, death becomes a catalyst instead of an end, spurning an intense and impossible search for a cure for fate.
Though it’s set in present day, “The Fountain” considers death to be just another curable disease. At least, that’s the belief scientist Tommy Creo (Hugh Jackman, “X-Men”) clings to as he researches treatments for the brain tumors of primates. The reason for his work is clear – his wife Izzi (Rachel Weisz, “The Constant Gardener”) is dying of a brain tumor. Unlike her husband, Izzi remains undaunted by her prognosis, and spends her time writing a book detailing an old Mayan legend about one man’s quest to live forever.
Despite its beginning as a classic drama of love and loss, “The Fountain” strays wildly from conventional plotlines when Tommy obliges Izzi’s request to read her still-unfinished book. Fantasy and reality begin to blend in the story, a transformation so absolute that it becomes nearly impossible to discern the real world from its imaginative counterpart.
Tommy becomes Tomas, a 16th-century Spanish conquistador seeking a magical tree that will save the life of his queen (also played by Weisz). He eventually finds the tree only to discover a band of pagans and their fire-wielding chief standing guard. Jackman, perhaps using his “X-Men”-honed skills, then proceeds to fend them off deftly with the prowess of a seasoned warrior. Yet just before his apparent success, he’s dealt a mortal wound.
But death is never truly the end. Centuries after Izzi’s actual death, an older, monk-like Tommy is found drifting in a space capsule toward a golden nebula. With the magical tree in his care, Tommy’s only desire is to revive Izzi once he reaches the center of the nebula. Along the way, he’s haunted by memories of Izzi and how he constantly chose his research over spending time with her.
These reincarnations of Tommy constantly fluctuate in a nonlinear path throughout the film, creating an unsettling displacement of reality. It’s sometimes impossible to tell which representation of Tommy is authentic and which is merely a character in Izzi’s book. Instead, their collective passion for the woman they love creates a powerful effect that makes it incredibly difficult not to be moved by the fact that Tommy’s sole motivation, regardless of his place in time, is to keep Izzi alive.
Yet director Darren Aronofsky (“Requiem for a Dream”) doesn’t offer any easy answers. While Tommy’s research in the present-day world seems promising, the tumors of his test subjects remain unchanged (at least at first). As he faces the unnerving fact that he may not be able to save Izzi, his other selves still fight to defy this. Despite the outcome, the film reminds us that we live in a world outside the realm of science fiction. Our inevitable fate is made hauntingly clear and continues to linger even after the credits roll.
Learn to live forever
The Fountain of Youth. The Tree of Life. The Holy Grail. Whatever you want to call it, Hollywood filmmakers have been fascinated with the idea of eternal life- for some time. Check out some of its other cinematic manifestations:
“Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (1989) – Harrison Ford, in the series’s most complex installment, battles Nazis, the forces of darkness and his own waning faith to find the Holy Grail, which will grant eternal life, before the bad guys do. No one else does it better – especially not with a whip.
“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” (2001) – Voldemort wants the Sorcerer’s Stone. The Sorcerer’s Stone brews Elixer of Life, which grants the drinker eternal youth. Enter wands, broomsticks and some adorably prepubescent British actors before they found their groove.
“Tuck Everlasting” (2002) – Yes, it’s Disney, but this cinematic rendition of a classic young adult novel hits a few sweet spots in its exploration of young love and the unforeseen tragedy of eternal youth. Also, see Rory Gilmore get her Victorian dress on.
At the Showcase and Quality 16
Rating: 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars