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The Fountain

The following review comes from regular Bandwidth Magazine contributer, John Wheeler

The Fountain

The Fountain is a film of one beginning and several ends. Darren Aronofsky never really shows the audience the distance between those points, but is content to show cause and effect without much journey in between.

But that’s not really a problem. The Fountain could have been an epic of disastrous proportions if Aronofsky had deigned to flesh out the adventure aspects which lie implied between the film’s opening and its three separate conclusions, separated by 500 years. As it stands at an hour and forty minutes, The Fountain is at a reasonable length for the kind of incomprehensible, staggeringly pretty story it wants to tell.

That prettiness, the stunning visuals that make it worth watching in full panamorphic widescreen at some high-end theater, comes at the beginning and the end of the film’s convoluted plot. Everything in between is effectively expendable because, contrary to popular opinion, Aronofsky is not a master storyteller.

Hugh Jackman plays three temporally different renditions of the same character, Tommy, all searching for the elixir of life to save Izzy (Rachel Weisz). Five hundred years ago, he is a conquistador who journeys to Central America for Queen Isabel. In the present, he becomes a surgeon trying to save his dying wife. And in the future, a bald version of Tommy journeys through space with an ancient tree in a giant bubble toward some initially indistinct end.

Having had experience in the realm of super heroes, Hugh Jackman can play concealed vulnerability about as well as any actor in Hollywood. The film’s emotional final moments are genuinely tear-jerking because Jackman conveys the frustration of failure and loss equally well through three different characters. He is just about the only saving grace of the tepidly-shot, cliché-ridden modern day segments. The same cannot be said of Weisz, who is almost laughably bad as Izzy. Oddly enough, she manages reasonably well as Queen Isabel but her performance falls apart in the present. Izzy is annoying, squeaky and “free-spirited,� all of which are qualities Aronofsky seems to think constitute grace. Maybe Izzy would fit that description if she had been played by someone who could actually balance the burden of dying with Izzy’s unique personality.

Aronofsky's Fountain

However, despite the dull segments in present day, the past and future stories are gorgeous to look at and Aronofksy’s impeccable sense of the power of imagery is on full display. He recreates the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition in only one scene, but the moment is so over-the-top and stunning that it carries as much weight as an entire movie devoted to the subject.
As with that one beautifully horrible moment, the rest of The Fountain carries Aronofsky’s touch for an utter lack of subtlety. The visuals are stunning because they are so audacious and, because he avoided computer graphics, realistic in a surreal sense. The scenes in outer space are wonderful in the same quiet, simple sort of way that those in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey were.
The movie’s parallel storylines are visually connected in a way that never feels forced. Unfortunately the connections in dialogue and story always feel awkward because they are repeated ad nauseum. For a movie that wants to make itself very clear thematically and in terms of character development, it is also frustrating that The Fountain becomes indecipherable in the final minutes, opting for visual beauty instead of a real conclusion.

The Fountain is a movie that manages the rare feat of looking great as well as carrying a brain in its pretty little head. How unfortunate, then, that it can never quite find the words to express itself without stuttering and mumbling. The Fountain shows the emotional end of three connected stories, Aronofsky just isn’t able to make sense of what it all means.

For more articles by John Wheeler, check out Bandwidth Magazine. Available on campus now!