The Fountain

Writer-director Darren Aronofsky's years-in-the-making sci-fi, which unfolds simultaneously in 16th-century Spain and Central America, the 21st-century United States and 26th-century space, is an intoxicatingly beautiful but painfully simplistic fable about love and death. All three segments revolve around Thomas (Hugh Jackman) and his doomed beloved. In...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Writer-director Darren Aronofsky's years-in-the-making sci-fi, which unfolds simultaneously in 16th-century Spain and Central America, the 21st-century United States and 26th-century space, is an intoxicatingly beautiful but painfully simplistic fable about love and death. All three segments revolve around Thomas (Hugh Jackman) and his doomed beloved. In the past, he's a conquistador in love with Queen Isabel (Rachel Weisz), who's been accused of heresy by a vicious inquisitor (Stephen McHattie). She dispatches Thomas to find the Fountain of Youth, which a renegade priest (Mark Margolis) believes he's located in a ruined Mayan temple consecrated to a vast tree whose thick, viscous sap (the less said about what it resembles the better) seethes with the essence of life itself. In the modern day, Jackman is Dr. Tommy Creo (yes, creo as in the Latin "to create"), a research scientist whose luminous wife, Izzi (also Weisz), is dying of cancer. Desperate to find a cure for her — a cure for death itself — he neglects the moments they could have shared, leaving her to find meaning in turning Thomas and Isabel's story into a richly imagined novel called "The Fountain." In the future, Thomas has surrendered himself to the task of preserving the Mayan tree, which contains the souls of everyone who ever lived and which has come to the end of its life-giving resources. Ensconced in a spaceship that looks like the Good Witch Glinda's magical soap bubble, Thomas and the tree are en route to the dying star Xibalba — not coincidentally, it shares its name with the Mayan underworld — and Thomas tends the tree with feverish devotion, trying to prolong its flickering life force until they reach Xibalba; when Xibalba self-destructs, Thomas hopes the blast of pure cosmic energy will reunite him with Izzi on a spiritual plane.

Thomas' fatal flaw is his inability to accept that death is a natural part of life, a truth Izzi has learned by the beginning of the 21st century but which he takes another five hundred years to embrace. The film's visuals are gorgeous, particularly its unique vision of space, evoked through micro-images of chemical reactions (conceived and executed by Aronofsky's in-house effects unit, Amoeba Proteus), and the gilded excesses of the Spanish court (Queen Isabel's velvet and gold dress, patterned with twining roots and branches, is practically a character in its own right). But the sequences involving the future Thomas, bald and ascetic, and his erotically charged attentions to the dying tree of life careen between the ridiculous and the creepy. All-consuming love is a time-honored metaphor, but Thomas' impassioned tree-hugging — its bark bristles with tiny hairs that reach imploringly for his lips, while he picks off and consumes bits to prolong his own life — is viscerally repellent in a way that's well out of sync with the story's floridly transcendent themes.

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  • Released: 2006
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Review: Writer-director Darren Aronofsky's years-in-the-making sci-fi, which unfolds simultaneously in 16th-century Spain and Central America, the 21st-century United States and 26th-century space, is an intoxicatingly beautiful but painfully simplistic fable abou… (more)

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