"It's very much like a Rubik's cube, where you can solve it in several different ways, but ultimately there's only one solution at the end."

-- Darren Aronofsky

The Fountain is a film written and directed by Darren Aronofsky. It stars Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz and was released on November 22, 2006. The movie weaves three plotlines that take place at three different points in history into one love story dealing with, among other things, the quest for immortality and accepting death.

(Great effort has been taken to keep this writeup as spoiler-free as possible. For a detailed description of the storyline -- including spoilers -- you might want to read the Wikipedia entry.)

Storyline

The film begins in the 16th century, where conquistadors are searching for the Tree of Life and its life-giving, death-defying sap. Their leader, Tomas (Jackman), is the only survivor of an attack by Mayans defending their sacred pyramid (in which the Tree is thought to be). He is encouraged to press onward after seeing a vision of Queen Isabella (Weisz), who has given him a ring and asked him to deliver Spain from the bondage of the Inquisition. After reaching the pyramid, he is attacked by a Mayan priest who has sworn to protect the Tree at all costs.

The film then cuts to the 21st century portion, in which a hospital doctor/surgeon named Tommy (also Jackman) is conducting a variety of medical experiments in an attempt to cure cancerous tumors. His research is motivated by his wife, Izzi (also Weisz), who has cancer and is not expected to live for much longer. Izzi is writing a book called The Fountain; it is about the 16th century plotline with which the film opens.

The 26th century portion involves a much older (and balder) Tommy encased in a bubble with a tree, hurtling towards a nebula. The significance of the nebula is explained in both the 16th and 21st century plotlines; the Mayans believed that Xibulba, the underworld, was reachable through the Milky Way, and that this is where departed souls went to be reborn.

16th century Tomas is (though he's fictional) bent on reaching the Tree of Life so that he can save Spain and its Queen from the Inquisition. 21st century Tommy is obsessed with discovering a way to cure his wife, whose condition worsens throughout the film. 26th century Tommy wants to reach Xibulba with the tree (which represents Izzi) so that they can "live forever." None of them is able to accept mortality, whether it be his own or that of his love.

Important symbols

All three storylines intentionally parallel each other. As such, a number of key symbols are repeated through each plot

Trees: Tomas is searching for the immortality-granting Tree of Life, which Queen Isabella sends him to find because it will protect her and those who are loyal to her from the punishments the Inquisitor has planned for them. Tommy (21st century) is devoted to his medical research to the point of obsessing over it; he even tests an unapproved compound created with sap from a tree in Guatemala. Tommy (26th century) is travelling towards Xibulba with a very large tree. He eats its bark to sustain himself and occasionally sees visions of the 21st century Izzi.

In the 21st century, Izzi also tells Tommy about a man who guided her through Mayan ruins on a trip to South America; the man's family had planted a tree on his father's grave, believing that he would "grow into the tree" and that once the tree bore fruit that could be eaten by wildlife, "he flew with the birds."

Death: All three of Jackman's characters (Tomas and both Tommys) are terrified of the prospect of losing the women they love. 26th century Tommy wants to attain eternal life for both himself and Izzi/the tree. 21st century Tommy becomes obsessive about finding a cure for Izzi's cancerous tumor and considers anything other than a cure a failure.

21st century Tommy even goes so far as to call death "a disease" and vows to find a cure.

The acceptance of mortality is also one of the key themes, as all three storylines involve an eventual understanding of the human condition.

David Bowie: Okay, the thin white duke isn't so much a theme as he is an influence. The 26th century sequences were influenced by two elements: The Matrix and Space Oddity. Aronofsky even named Jackman's characters after Major Tom and had approached Bowie to write a third "Major Tom song" (the first two being Space Oddity and Ashes to Ashes. Bowie had, apparently, expressed an interest but was unable to comply due to time constraints.

Trivia

Aronofsky's original casting included Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. Pitt left to make (wait for it) Troy; the movie was shelved until "further notice."

In the interim period between Pitt's departure and the film's resurrection, Aronofsky helped produce a graphic novel using the plotline.

The film received mixed reviews; this has been attributed to the fact that it is not a particularly accessible to people who aren't into philosophical 90-minute films about death. It also switches between the three time periods without much explanation, which can be confusing and possibly frustrating.


References: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0414993/
I took my boyfriend to see this on his birthday. Little did we realize that it was about accepting mortality and, while visually pretty and intellectually stimulating, profoundly depressing. Happy birthday, sweetie.

Instead of going shopping, which is what I was planning to do today, I want to talk to you about my favourite album: Clint Mansell's soundtrack to The Fountain. Then I will proceed to meander wildly.

The Fountain, in case you haven't heard of it, is a film by Darren Aronofsky, who also directed Pi and Requiem for a Dream. I'm a bit ambivalent about the film itself, though I'm not sure why. Perhaps because the film is hard to digest emotionally. It's about death , and its inevitability, specifically your death and the death of your loved ones.

It's a film you need to accept fully, including the silly character names, to enjoy at all. If you do, it's extremely powerful and moving. If you don't, there's not much there: mostly some people talking and some pretty special effects. Or you may find the film entirely too powerful, and end up taking refuge in emotional distance and careful appraisal, at which point the film's little flaws do become apparent. This is what has happened to me, I think.

Anyway, the film's soundtrack was made by Clint Mansell, who also made the soundtracks for (some of) Pi and (all of) Requiem for a Dream. The piece you're most likely to have heard is Lux Aeterna, which was used in the trailers for The Two Towers, The Da Vinci Code, and Lost, among others.

While I like the other soundtracks, I'm truly in love with the one for The Fountain. It's haunting and timeless, suitable for the film's themes of death, loss, and the promise of eternal life.

Before I start talking about the music itself, I need to point out that I have no musical education or skill to speak of. I cannot read, write, or make music. I can play "Jelly on a Plate" on the piano. I can discern the flow and rhythm, the point and counterpoint, the movement of music well enough. But like a mini-Melkor, I couldn't create a piece of music, only imitate and repeat another. So I'm sure that many of the things I want to talk about have perfectly good names, but I don't know them, so bear with me as I grapple with anologies. Equally, I may fail to identify instruments. Please translate accordingly:

The CD contains ten tracks.

It starts with "The Last Man", a slow and rather melancholy piece that relies mostly on string instruments, underlain with a slow, deep rhythm of a single violin playing two alternating notes. Towards the end, a piano is introduced. After a few bars of accompanying the music, it turns to a repeated, echoing sound like a bell, leading into the next song.

"Holy Dread!" begins with drums beating out the rhythm that continues from the previous song, a simple alternating beat. The string instruments join in, as do some hints of chanting. The music turns ominous, reminiscent of some prehistoric time of monoliths and rituals. The string instruments and the drumming work well together, and give a taste of the album's signature sound. "Holy Dread!" rises to an early crescendo of chanting and frenzied strings towards the end, hinting at the main theme - the main chord progression or rhythm - of the album.

Then it abruptly launches into "Tree of Life", and we encounter the main theme: two beats, followed by another, more rapid pair. The first wave of sound soon calms down and the music is joined by the strings again, and the next wave begins. The track continues in this manner, waves of increasing intensity breaking to give way to calmer parts filled with drumming, chanting and faint, high-pitched string sounds, almost painful. Ultimately, it relents, and is replaced by

"Stay With Me", which is the first of the quieter, melancholy piano pieces that alternate with the more overwhelming string-and-drum ones. In the film, these correspond to the scenes set in the present time dealing with the struggle against cancer. While they are equally beautiful, I have to say that I tend to skip these songs sometimes, as I don't always feel like being reminded of my mortality!

"Work" is a subdued string piece, contrasting a slow rendition of the melody in "Tree of Life" with a repetitive, hurried alteration of two high-pitched notes that clearly represent the work (the cancer research) being done in the film. The track ends after two and a half minutes, dying away without ever reaching a climax or conclusion.

"Xibalba" sets out much as "Work", but replaces the hurried strings with a chanted melody, ending in softly echoing piano. A mood of desperation infects the piece.

"Finish It" continues the mood set out in "Xibalba". Slow, ethereal strings are eventually joined by a progression of beeps or perhaps piano chords that make me think of red lights seen blinking atop faraway buildings at night. Then, with a sigh, the music launches back into the main theme of the two double beats. The music begins to rise and intensify before pausing. It starts again, slowly and quietly, making a rhythm with plucked strings. But soon, there is a sense of something gathering, as if the music were backing away before breaking into a run and leap. Then it accelerates and becomes stronger, joined by drums. Early crests alternate with quieter periods, and then the music stops and is replaced by a series of screeching, whining, rushing sounds.

"Death is the road to awe" begins, reprising the now-familiar theme on the piano, which is soon joined again by the strings, and soft drumming. The melancholy of "Finish it" seems mellowed at first, but then the theme is picked out by the violin - and subtly shifts into a darker tone. This is the point where the shivers inevitably start running down my spine, as they do now as I write this. As the music goes on, the sense of gathering returns. It comes in waves, nearly coming to a halt before picking up again, more urgent. Each wave only lasts a few seconds before the next interlude, but each wave is stronger. Then the drums join again in force and the violins' sound becomes tortured. The next wave feels as if you were running towards a cliff with all your might, somehow expecting to lift off when you reach the edge. It's followed by a last silence before the music returns for the final time, everything at once, no longer quite music, a screeching, wailing, sublime blast of sound. It fades away, leaving the piano to play

"Together we will live forever", about grief and loss and the jarring flashes of remembered happiness within. At the end, it just fades into silence.

(What follows are thoughts about the record, not about the film. Don't try to fit them to the film, because they don't.)

When I listen to this record, the orchestral portions bring up images of visits to natural history museums - skulls and labels and display-cases, ammonites in colourful minerals.

I love natural history museums. Not the modern kind with kid-friendly computerised displays and big, colourful, information-scarce panels. The kind that contains nothing than near-endless glass display cases of fossils and preserved animals. The kind where, if you bother to look, you can see the shapes of life and their evolution and get a feeling for the immense flow of time and its forces. You can see the patterns hence formed, their combination of utility and symmetry, mathematical glory. A reminder of the beauty and depth of the world, and an antidote to the mundane tedium of everyday life.

Other people find such museums gruesome or boring, I think. Full of dead staring things and little yellowed type-written notes. Too clinical, too reminiscent of your own status as a creature that will die and leave behind one of those skeletons. They would rather go out and chat with people, or watch TV, or take a walk, and not be in the same room as these dead things.

But I've always found them quite comforting. I'm an atheist, and one who slid into this view quite naturally, with no great struggle of faith. I'm well aware of death and its consequence of near-certain total oblivion. Sharing a space with things that are already dead makes no difference to that. I have no delusions of my own significance in the universe, but in the presence of fossils, I can see myself as part of life, and I can see life's shapes as a mirror of the universe's mathematics.

And the vast expanses of time across which life plays make my own death appear immaterial. Given that the present is a sham invented by my brain to let me reason about the world, when I look at the world sideways in time, I am part of the same organism as my mother, my father, my unborn children and everyone else. Take the dimension of time into account, and the demand to live forever is like the demand to have infinite width: absurd. Things have to be bounded to be real. The present exists exactly as much and as little as the past, so after I die, I will go on existing exactly as much as I always have: as a reflection of the universe.

At the end of "Death is the Road to Awe", in the last fifty seconds, the music explodes for a last time in an almost physically painful burst, containing everything in the song at once. Its afterglow morphs into the piano that leads into the final song. You would then expect to hear a point where the orchestral crescendo again becomes the mundane piano, where the quality of the music shifts to the mundane. But the music is one piece.

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