Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz fall down the rabbit hole in Aronofsky's transcendent time-travel romancer.
GLENN KENNY'S REVIEW (posted 11/22/06)
If you're a movie lover who despairs that big-scale filmmaking today consists of little more than a self-cannibalizing system of clichés; if you are fed up with putatively ambitious movies that turn out to sorely lack not just vision but actual brains and actual heart as well, then you need, badly, to see The Fountain, soon, and under the most optimum viewing conditions available. It may well restore your faith in the idea that a movie can take you out of the mundane and into a place of wonderment.
Describing this picture in terms of transportive qualities will no doubt strike some as a little fuzzy-minded. I should point out, then, that with The Fountain, getting to a place of wonderment isn't a matter of turning off your mind, relaxing, and floating downstream; the movie is as demanding as it is dazzling. Writer-director Darren Aronofsky tells three stories here. In the 16th century, a Spanish warrior travels to the other side of theworld at the behest of his queen, seeking the secret of eternal life. In a time that resembles our own, a brilliant, driven medical researcher races to find a cure for his wife's brain tumor. And in a very far distant future, a hairless, yoga-practicing astronaut, traveling in a spaceship unlike anything NASA has yet imagined, drifts toward a dying star, looking, in a way, for the same secret his temporal predecessors were and haunted by the voice and vision of a departed loved one. That the main protagonists of each of these stories are played (beautifully) by Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz is just the beginning of how Aronofsky weaves a web of (mostly visual) correspondences between them. For one thing, the 16th-century tale that kicks off the movie is later revealed to be the story line of a book that Weisz's contemporary character is writing even as her health deteriorates. But Aronofsky never puts quotes around the 16th-century scenes themselves; they have as much "reality," and are as thrilling and engrossing, as anything else in the film. The Fountain is probably the deftest stories-within-stories narrative film I've seen since the very different 1965 Polish film The Saragossa Manuscript (itself based on an early 19th-century novel). By The Fountain's end, the multilayered meta-narrative (which Aronofsky co-conceived with Ari Handel) resolves (or does it?) into a kind of diegetic Möbius strip, to stunning effect.
This may all sound kind of dry and cerebral, and the fact that Aronofsky is currently being compared to Stanley Kubrick (and this film in particular to 2001: A Space Odyssey) no doubt adds to that impression. Aronofsky's work certainly resembles Kubrick's in terms of conceptual audacity and meticulousness of execution (Aronofsky's prior feature, 2000's Requiem for a Dream, showcased a scattershot deployment of a fecund visual facility; here he's got his formidable apparatus under control), but Aronofsky is a romantic with a capital "R," which Kubrick was certainly not. As it happens, each one of these tales is also a love story, and The Fountain is Aronofsky's profession of faith concerning love's place in the idea of eternity. It's a movie that's as deeply felt as it is imagined.