Wednesday, March 26, 2014

ARONOFSKY WEEK - Understanding and Accepting Aronofsky's Passion Project, The Fountain

It took six long years for Darren Aronofsky to follow up his incendiary Requiem for a Dream, six very long arduous years spent by this film fan, foaming at the mouth.  Requiem had changed my world, flipped my perspective on movies, and I wanted nothing more than to see what Aronofsky had in store next.  In those six years, so many things happened to his baby, his passion project, The Fountain.  First off, in 2002, Brad Pitt was attached to star in it and the film was given a $75 million budget.  This all fits given the hot commodity of Aronofsky at the time, and we all remember those early 2000s years when Pitt would show up in public with brand in a shabby unkempt beard.  That was for The Fountain.

Needless to say, things fell through on initial production and the picture was shelved, only to be resurrected in 2004 with less than half the budget and new stars, hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz.  Corners had to be cut, never a good sign for a director when the film in question is a passion project they have been mulling over for years upon years.  Aronofsky worked with what he had, and thankfully was able to have Jackman and Weisz on board in the lead roles to help soften the blow of studio interference and budget cuts.

But enough excuses.  When The Fountain was finally released, what was once an epic in the making, a tentpole feature for a major studio became a quiet Mid-November release by Warner Brothers that was met by collective confusion from audiences.  The film was considered confusing, aimless, annoying, frustrating, and forgettable.  Perhaps that is all true in hindsight, but in consideration of all the turmoil, of all the external influences on the picture itself, I can manage to - in my own fanatical way - find truth in what Aronofsky is trying to say in the The Fountain.  By no means is it a flawless movie, and it will most certainly be Aronofsky's weakest film in his career regardless of what is to come.  But much of this is not his fault, and the very soul of the picture has something to say about life and love.  So let's get into the film itself.

The story follows three timelines, one in the past, one in the present, and one in the distant future, all starring Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz in the lead roles.  In the past, a conquistador named Tomas (Jackman) is fighting native intruders in the name of his queen, Isabel (Weisz), and fighting to uncover the tree of life which will grant eternity to those who find it.  In the present, Tom is a scientist fighting against the clock to try and find a cure for his dying wife, Izzy.  He believes there is a cure for death, as it is in his mind simply a disease.  Then there is the future sequence, where we see Tom, or a version of Tom, floating in an orb through space with a tree.  The future segments are most certainly the most bewildering to audiences, but the explanation for this sequence is clear.  In the present, Izzy is working on a novel, which tells the story of Tomas and Queen Isabel.  Just as Tom begins reading Izzy's book, so we are shot back into the story of the past.

Izzy dies before she can finish her book, so it is up to Tom to complete the final chapter.  This is where we meet Tom in the future, body shaven, traveling with the spirit of his departed wife in the form of a tree.  Tom in the future is moving towards some version of heaven, or of complete consciousness with his wife, and absorbs her throughout his journey.  This is the very base understanding of The Fountain, but since the film was chopped and trimmed and marginalized by outside forces, perhaps it is more important to look at what Aronofsky was trying to do rather than what he was able to do.

Regardless of the time period, The Fountain is dealing with mortality and immortality in exclusive narrative threads.  Death is something Jackman's characters reject, and Weisz's characters fall victim to depiste the valiant efforts of our hero.  There are emotional truths in so many of the present day scenes.  But beyond the technical jargon of the story, what exists at the base of the film is a story about love that is not slighted regardless of the outside interference.  Jackman and Weisz create a believable couple with wonderful chemistry.  Even though the film was doomed in certain ways from the very beginning, there is passion and dedication in the performances.

It's hard to believe Aronofsky took six years between the success of Requiem For a Dream and his follow up, but The Fountain was clearly something he had been working on since he wanted to become a filmmaker.  While you cannot excuse the drab nature of the film, the short and shaky editing, and the end result in tone, you can still admire The Fountain for what it meant to Aronofsky, and what he and the actors put into their roles.  And, like every Aronofsky picture, the scoring work of Clint Mansel cannot be denied.