The Fountain (Darren Aronofsky, 2006)
It seems like Darren Aronofsky wants you to believe that the three parallel story lines of three different time lines co-exist in the same universe. It's Orpheus and Eurydice-type lovers, their pan-historical names are variations of Thomas (Hugh Jackman) and Isabel (Rachel Weisz), recur as 15th century Spanish conquistador and queen, 21st century cancer researcher and his cancer-stricken wife, and 26th century space explorer and life-giving tree. Yet viewing it like that, I felt, pushed forward the flimsiness of the connections of the story lines.
Instead, I viewed the three story lines of The Fountain as existing in different dimensions --- the 15th century storyline exists within the psychological framework of a dying Izzi, the 21st century object of maddened obsession by Dr. Tom Creo, who is rushing experimentations to cure his wife of her brain tumor. The 26th century storyline, where bald-headed Tommy lovingly feels a tree existing inside an intergalactic traveling bubble floating towards a dying star, looks unrealistically dreamy that I thought it's apt to appropriate it as more of Dr. Tom's fantasy sequence (post Izzi-death) than a look into the future.
My interpretation may be seen as a disservice to Aronofsky's scope and ambition. What I'm trying to imply is that there is only one storyline --- the two period pieces are introspective peeks at the minds of these troubled lovers. The conquistador plot introduces the film, before being transported into the surreal space bubble, that segues to the present tense plot.
Formally, we are introduced to the conquistador plot line through the unfinished manuscript written by Izzi. Strictly, that plot happens within the near-death mindset of Izzi and curiously, she sees herself as the queen of Spain, threatened to be put to death by the Grand Inquisitor for seeking eternal life. The queen assigns his trusted conquistador to accompany a Franciscan friar to New Mexico to search for the tree of life (evidenced by both Mayan and Judeo-Christian mythologies). The historical inaccuracies may be forgiven as literary devices to appropriate the general emotion of Izzi while writing her manuscript, conveniently unfinished as she still hopes her husband discover a cure for her cancer, the same way the queen hopes her conquistador discovers the tree of life before she is uncovered by the heretical inquisitor.
Interesting to note is that the 15th century plot line is grounded with Judeo-Christian religion as opposed to the 26th century plot line which graphically apes Eastern Asian religion and philosophy (Tommy practicing tai chi backdropped by passing stars; nirvana-stylized sense of accomplishment). It's a difference that becomes more apparent if the two timelines are viewed as the two characters' respective outlooks on life and death. Judeo-christian tradition sees death as an essential part of life, and to beat it is something of a natural abomination. Eastern tradition sees death as part of a cycle, through reincarnation or nirvana, as in Buddhist tenets. Izzi's manuscript is a creation of an experience from hopeful determination that death may be defeated, to a resolute acceptance that death is inevitable. Dr. Tom (whose dream sequence is the 26th century space travel to the nebula; the 26th century sequence does segue to Dr. Tom daydreaming in his laboratory) dreams of death as a disease, essentially curable, and despite several lifetimes, may eventually be defeated to earn the prize of reconciliation with a loved one. Thus, his dream sequence features Eastern Asian philosophical precepts that dictate hope for reconciliation with a dead lover.
The Fountain is as nebulous as it is visually astounding. Aronofsky, working with a $35 million budget (a lot less than what he was initially assigned with when Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett were still his leads), surprisingly creates wonderful setpieces and visual tricks that lend a helping hand to the surreality of the exercise. The space travel (the backgrounds were created by filming chemical reactions in a petridish) does elicit a response akin to viewing organisms trapped in a petridish. Actually, the entire film feels more like a bio-psychological experiment on the extent of love despite the threat of being truncated by death --- Aronofsky posits that his subjects (Dr. Tom and Izzi) would spurt out cultural-metaphysical-philosophical-religious psychobabble to resist the inevitabilities of life and love. Interestingly, despite the problematic shifts in tone, time, and emotions, the film feels more intimately justified as it is ambitiously underrealized.
This post is my contribution to the Jim Emerson's Scanners: Contrarianism Blog-A-Thon.