After watching Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain, I realize why some booed and walked out during its screening last year in the Venice Film Festival. This is one movie which you'll either hate to the core, or simply love. No in-betweens because it doesn't allow you to, with its storyline totally, and I mean totally, open to an individual's interpretation, which makes it truly unique. I suspect if I were to watch it again, and multiple times even, each experience will be different, as you draw upon and focus inevitably on different aspects of the plot. Such is how diverse and layered The Fountain is.
For those enticed into this movie by its trailers, let me say that this is one which the editing of the snippets make it look so accessible, you'd think you know the plot. The fact is, you'll probably be shell shocked within the first 15 minutes, akin to drowning and desperately gasping for any pocket of air that will help keep you alive, just for a little while more. And my advice is to stick to it, grit your teeth, bear with it, as slowly, bit by bit, with more details revealed, you'd start to see some semblance of the plot, though still stuck with the difficulty of assembling all the pieces into their rightful place.
This is a story about love, loss, spirituality, myth, science fiction, fantasy, all rolled into one. It contains fantastical elements for the most parts, which you'll have to take them for what you will. And you have to salute Aronofsky's storytelling craft, for wielding together chunks of seemingly disparate plot elements and dialogue to tie in so intricately to one another, becoming a mirror to its talk about the circle of life. Almost every spoken line of dialogue becomes a visual element, every action measured and not wasted, and when seen as a whole with that helicopter hindsight, just masterfully done. The music by Clint Mansell is extremely seductive, probably one of the best I've heard in recent times, complimenting the visuals perfectly, eliciting every mood out of you on cue, becoming that directional signboard to follow even when the environment around you becomes confusing. If there is a gripe, then it should fall on the close-ups and fast cuts during night action pieces, like what Batman Begins had.
The next paragraph contains extremely mild spoilers, so skip it if you don't want to know, in my opinion, how you should anchor yourself to gain some bearings.
Hugh Jackman plays, amongst others, Dr Tom Creo, a man obsessed with seeking out a cure for his wife, Izzi Creo's (Rachel Weisz) cancer. He knows that time is running out, and you feel his pain of wanting to be by her side as she spends her last days, versus spending more time devoting himself to his research, for that breakthrough he needs that can heal Izzi. That basically sums up the central story from which to base whatever happens outside this narrative structure, where, depending on how you look at it, will give you totally different interpretations.
The following is my take, which contains MAJOR spoilers, and you should read it only if you've watched the movie. Otherwise, skip the next two paragraphs.
What happened in medieval Spain, I would believe, is Izzi's written story, and it makes a heartfelt one. Like the Queen, she believes in her knight, sending him on an errand to the Mayan land, vis a vis Dr Tom's quest for a cure, to allow them to live together, forever. She stands firm in adversary, ever optimistic, and in total trust of her man. It ended the way it did, because it became Tom's story, entrusted by his wife to complete the book, to write the final chapter, because in truth, the outcome will depend on how his research/quest will turn out to be. And with that slightest of hope (the little rubbing of the sap from the Tree of Life on his wound), it developed to a possible full fledged cure, but alas all is lost, too much too late, and he lost his will to live - what use is the solution, when the problem no longer exist?
But he has the other side of the equation to choose from - instead of giving up on himself, to continue with his efforts so that others might live. This follows the futuristic tale (of what could happen in future), of travelling into the nebula together, of the Mayan belief of rebirth and new life, of the sacrifices one makes, so that others will benefit from the fruits of your labour. The end is presented in an amalgam, of the choices presented in itself, and the difficulties in making that sole decision, and the exploration, and probable existential feeling, that perhaps both can co-exist together. That Dr Tom Creo chose both to grieve his personal pain and loss, but yet to seek strength from that grieve, to continue, symbolized by his planting of the seed atop his wife's grave, as in the Mayan story of a new life.
I thought Hugh Jackman put in one of his best performances in The Prestige, but his multiple roles here, especially the central figure of Dr Tom Creo, is his best to date. You feel his pain and anguish, the fear, the hopes, the moments of joy, he gave his character that much sense of sadness, you'll probably want to weep alongside him, as you get exacerbated by his desperation.
Rachel Weisz had plenty of roles in bathtubs before (Constantine and Chain Reaction comes to mind, both starring opposite Keanu Reeves you wonder), and in this movie, while she didn't have much to do in her roles per se, she managed to bring about that touch of vulnerability, coupled with some inner strength to see her through her dark days. Her sad, tender moments with Jackman will make your heart sink, and yes, one of the best happened at the bathtub as well.
All I can say is, go to The Fountain with a very open mind. Like a sponge, absorb the proceedings, groove to the soundtrack, listen intently to every whisper, gaze intensely at the visuals. Feel, people, don't analyze during, do it after. It's gonna be extremely rewarding, and a very memorable, trippy ride.