Metaphysical space age imaginings counter the death of a loved one in writer/director Darren Aronofsky’s visually stunning yet superficial fantasy. Tommy (Hugh Jackman) is a scientist obsessed with discovering and implementing a cure for his wife Izzy’s (Rachael Weisz) cancer in time to save her from death. Izzy has been writing a sci-fi fantasy novel called The Fountain, about a 16th century discovery of the fountain of youth by Thomas, a Spanish conquistador (also played by Jackman), inspired by her husband’s quest to save her life.
The “fountain” is revealed to be more of a lurking Tree of Life whose sap will impart lasting mortality on whoever drinks its milky white essence. Izzy’s wish that Tommy complete the book on her behalf results in his own reflective reverie wherein he floats through the cosmos as Tom Creo, a 26th century astronaut enclosed inside a bubble spacecraft. Tom occasionally removes bark from the dying tree of eternal life to sustain himself when he isn’t meditating about his long journey. The three narrative threads combine to form a movie that is alternately beguiling and annoying.
Tom’s desert island bubble approaches the enormous golden Xibalba nebula where the bald, meditating New Age astronaut will ostensibly be reunited with Izzy whose ghost periodically appears to command him to finish writing her book. The Fountain suffers most when the audience is made to endure Tommy’s wallowing crying fits that intersperse the film’s latter half as part of the real-life sub-plot.
Jackman’s notable charisma keeps the scenes from appearing ugly, even if the consequence is distasteful for his character’s loathsome self-indulgence. Although the space travel plot is the strongest of the three stories, it seeps with a pretentious tone that perverts Aronofsky’s thematic intention of romantic loyalty and everlasting love.
Wearing billowy white clothes, Tom levitates in the lotus position as a hippy space traveler haunted by his wife’s specter. Tom busies himself tattooing black rings around his arm to track the passing years, just as a tree’s rings delineate its lifespan, while he waits to enter the nebula that will conclude Izzy’s novel.
Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream) is a stylistically visionary director trapped by the limitations of his writing abilities. The Spanish conquistador story is laughable for its childish trappings, and the modern day love story carries nagging elements such as Tom’s emotional fragility and lost wedding ring that dogs the movie as a superfluous ruse.
The Fountain works best as a high-concept sci-fi film with all of its seams showing. That Aronofsky inflates it with so much romantic helium condemns the piece as a soft soap melodrama built on unaffecting characters. The visually spectacular inner-nebula culmination is a stunner, and its seemingly drug-induced quality resonates in your memory. The scene has beauty, power and cinematic weight. Here is a movie based on one scene, and it is a doozy. MTW