"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.)
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 Mayan
s 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.
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.
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.
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.