An audacious creative experiment, The Fountain is such a stunningly rendered vision that it takes a while to notice that it's not much more than a simple love story, albeit a love that spans a thousand years though it might take a millennium to unravel all the tangled plot points that loop around one another. It's really three films in one: a faux historic action epic, a weepy medical melodrama and an interstellar freak-out that defies classification.
Hugh Jackman is a model of focused intensity in a triple role, variously a fierce 16th century Spanish explorer on the hunt for the source of eternal life deep in the Mayan jungle, a dour modern medical researcher desperately racing to find a cure for his dying wife, and a bald, Buddha-like astronaut hurtling through the void in a soap-bubble-shaped ship on a space odyssey to a distant nebula. All three share the name Tom or Thomas, and they may or may not be the same guy, or manifestations of the same soul, but all are driven lovesick by a consuming passion for a woman named Isabel.
The object of this obsession is played by director Darren Aronofsky's real-life love Rachel Weisz, who is afforded endless adoring close-ups so we can admire her lovely alabaster skin tone, exceeded only by the cute winter getup she wears, so virginally white it radiates like moonshine. The third most prominent character is a tree (no, really), a living giant that sprouts tiny hairs when touched, and oozes life-giving sap, though at times the script gives off even more sap. The actors get saddled with drippy lines, as when a sickly Izzy (Weisz) pets Tom's cheek and faintly whispers "My conquistador ... always conquering."
Fortunately, the film is more concerned with visuals than dialogue, dispensing with conventional storytelling and transfixing the viewer with a golden-hued cosmic light show. It's a marvel that such a head-scratching enterprise could even be launched on a big studio's dime, but having directed Pi and Requiem for a Dream, Aronofsky's reputation is such that Warner Bros. was willing to trade prestige points for profits and remained hands-off.
He might have benefited from a bit of outside influence or oversight, but it's exciting to watch him follow his personal path, no matter how far off course he may wander. The film is a psychedelic throwback that has no analogues in the product-driven contemporary multiplex, though in ways it recalls the trippy tone of the 1972 classic Slaughterhouse Five but lacks that film's dark humor or moral outrage to tether it to anything real. Instead of concrete answers, there is a thicket of mythological and new-age symbolism, which will surely be debated and decoded by the inevitable cult that'll embrace this movie long after the mainstream shrugs it off. All the metaphysical mumbo jumbo will captivate some and infuriate plenty more, yet in the final ledger, the film is a spiritual experience, because to fully enjoy it requires faith, both in the power of undying love and an artist's right to foolishly dream.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.