'Fountain' of (Widely Accepted) Truth

The Fountain
Dir. Darren Aronofsky; writ. Aronofsky (screenplay and story), Ari Handel (story); feat. Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn, Mark Margolis, Cliff Curtis, Sean Patrick Thomas, Ethan Suplee (PG-13)
Allow me to preface with a caveat, a soul-baring disclaimer, as it weighs reasonably upon my conscience to let you know precisely with whom you're dealing here. Really, I think it's only fair of me. Ready? Pi, from where I sit, was convoluted and draggy; Requiem for a Dream was - save for Ellen Burstyn - unsubtle, one-note, and ultimately disengaging. Got it? Good. Now, whatever transpires in the proceeding lines, you'll know roundabout what size grain of salt should, in your snowflake-special case, accompany its tentative digestion. (While we're at it, let's add to the "overrated" list the much-lauded but, in my estimation, humorless and fatally overcooked efforts American Beauty, Crash, and Million Dollar Baby. Feel free to recalibrate NaCl doses accordingly - or to flip, post-haste, to our back-of-the-book trove of suggestive phone-sex ads in order to evict the nascent dirty taste that's forming in your mouth.)

All right. Now that that throng has left (much roomier in here, no? Let's just hope they don't come back with pitchforks and torches; should that fate befall us, I'm sorry I got you into this), I can say without further qualification that The Fountain is, by quite a sight and for my money, the very best of the three features to issue from Darren Aronofsky's very serious noodle. Granted: In the present context, that mightn't seem the highest of praises - and truly, by no means is this an across-the-board crowd-pleaser (at the screening I attended, film's end was met by silence, followed by a patch of rather snotty laughter from the rear of the theater).

But it is, if naught else, genuinely interesting, due in some minor portion to the appearance that Aronofsky has, in some small measure, lightened the fuck up.

Those most sorely disappointed with The Fountain will likely fall into some permutation of two camps: (1) 'nofsky-heads looking for another fix of bleak, gritty reality, and (2) viewers who saw the trailer and bought tickets expecting (and, in truth, not unjustly so) three or so hours' worth of a time-traveling action-adventure epic somehow melding Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Lord of the Rings, Kingdom of Heaven (or some better-reviewed Crusades flick), and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. (Which, let's be frank, sounds uniquely insane, but also much like something I might drop eight bucks for.) Instead, they got a breezy 96 minutes of abstract rumination on life, death, and the knowledge that all is one. I'll admit: I can fathom the desire to flame Rottentomatoes.com.

We're given three Hugh Jackmans here: Bearded Conquistador Hugh; Floppy-Haired (Present-Day) Doctor Hugh; and Bald, Talcum-Powdered Space Hugh; all are on obsessive, single-minded, presumably noble missions to save something they love dearly (ostensibly: a country, a woman, a tree) from its imminent death. Rachel Weisz gets several incarnations as well - each serving as the heart of these quests. Events replay, timelines fracture and converge, a truth is learned, and it's over. With some stunning, The Matrix-meets-Neil-Gaiman-ish visuals and able performances by its leads throughout, sure, but in terms of plot, that's all you're getting.

The Fountain is profoundly divergent from what Ron-ron's done before, but there are unmistakable fingerprints all over (soundtrack; shot selection/framing; dreamlike, catch-up-with-me editing), and it works just as one suspects he intended. There's no slam-bang conclusion or nuanced character development; the film works much more simply - as an expression, something the filmmaker wanted to say about existence that warrants a nod of acknowledgement, a consideration of agreement or disagreement, and really, little more in the way of probing criticism. Certainly, you may very well not like it. I was happy to find, past prejudices and all, that I did.