Give Darren Aronofsky his due. Few writers could envision an epic as utterly original and ambitious as "The Fountain," much less attempt to bring that vision to the screen. Yet here he is, with a lyrical love story set simultaneously in the past, present and future, spanning more than 1,000 years. It is convoluted and confusing, and informed by Judeo-Christian and Buddhist teachings that may or may not resonate with the religiously disinclined. But it also is endearingly earnest and surprisingly moving.
That said, Aronofsky’s trio of intertwined narratives is as hard to describe as it is to follow. Each story follows Tom (Hugh Jackman) as he seeks out the Biblical fountain of youth — Eden’s Tree of Life — to discover the secrets of immortality that might save Izzi (Rachel Weisz), his endangered wife.
In the present, he is a doctor, obsessively bent on finding some remedy for Izzi’s inoperable brain tumor as she pours every remaining fiber of her being into an unfinished manuscript. In the distant future, he is a bald, brooding space traveler, floating across the universe in a diaphanous bubble containing the tree, which is beginning to look its age. And in 16th-century Spain, he is a rugged conquistador, still determined to find that confounded tree, believing that it will save his queen from the wrath of the Inquisition.
Sound ridiculous? Overreaching? Needlessly complicated? "The Fountain" is all those things, and there are times when the movie threatens to collapse beneath the weight of its hefty ambition. Watching Jackman strike a Buddha-like pose, soaring through a sea of stars by the seat of his monkish robes, would, in any other movie, recalibrate the scale for unintentional comedy. But there is a rare, haunting beauty to the film that is not limited to Matthew Libatique’s breathtaking cinematography.
Sure, "The Fountain" is overstuffed with elaborately conceived spare parts — the dying monkey that Dr. Tom uses to test his radical methods for combating tumors, the hysterical Mayan warriors who forcibly oppose his quest for the tree — but that’s just a part of its everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink charm.
At heart, it is a wrenching tale of desperate love, as Tom clings to Izzi even as she begins to accept her fate. There is not a trace of detached irony here; Aronofsky clearly reveres his characters, and presents their struggles with disarming sincerity and boundless energy. His thesis, that love is a timeless force capable of inflaming transcendingly intense passions, isn’t exactly new, but rarely has a director crafted such a bold homage to the notion.
"The Fountain" is a sprawling mix of ideas about life, death, reincarnation and the interconnectivity of human souls, and at times, its train of thought barrels off the tracks. Even then, it is a pleasure to behold.
The Fountain ???
Starring Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn, Mark Margolis and Stephen McHattie
Written by Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Running time 96 minutes