Monday, December 04, 2006

The Fountain

You aren't likely to hear about The Fountain. It's not a very accessible film. Even most critics have been bewildered by it. I saw it last night however, and it has affected me and stayed with me more than any film I've seen since "Requiem for a Dream."

There are three parallel stories in the film. The central story involves a modern day couple, Tom and Izzie, played by Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz. Izzi is dying of a brain tumor, and Tom is a neuroscientist desperately trying to save her life. Izzi is writing a novel called "The Fountain" about a conquistador that goes to South America to search for the Tree of Life, and this novel becomes the second story. The third story takes place at some point in the distant future. In it Tom hurtles through space towards a golden nebula inside of a transparent sphere. The first two stories take the form of his memories as he waits to arrive at his destination accompanied by a giant tree.

The acting in the movie is nothing short of incredible. Tom's grief is palpable, alternately ferocious and debilitating, and Izzi's shift from fear to acceptance of her imminent death is touching in contrast. Essentially, however, the movie is about images and themes: The ways we view death, the lengths we'll go to to prevent it, the way that coming to terms with the death of a loved one requires you to accept your own mortality, the conflict between working to save someone and being with them for their remaining time, and what grace, if any, there is after death. The images in the film are equally riveting: The sunlit tree of life at the summit of a Mayan temple, silhouetted tai chi in front of a field of stars, and many others. The music fits the mood and subject matter perfectly, a collaboration between the Kronos Quartet and Mogwai.

The connections between plots reveal themselves gradually, many parallel images create a sort of echoing continuity, and only at the end of the film is there a clear causal link between the stories. Most of the movie is as bleak and desperate as its images are beautiful. Ultimately however, the characters grow to accept and understand their mortality, and in a triumphant finale achieve what little material transcendence is possible in a physical world. It's not an easy movie, and you might not like it, but I guarantee you'll remember it long after you forget every other movie you've seen this year.

1 comment:

Neil said...

it's "tai chi", not "thai chi", you moran.