Idol Chatter

Advertise any film as a mixture of romance, science, and fantasy, and I’ll come running, no further questions. And so it was with ‘The Fountain,’ directed by Darren Aronofsky (‘Pi, ‘Requiem for a Dream’), starring Rachel Weisz and Hugh Jackman (both favorites of mine). This movie weaves three stories together: One “reality-based,” a second that might be labeled (loosely) as historical fiction, and a third that seems something of a “new age fantasy.” I saw the film during the very first showing on its opening day, November 22nd.

Though unclear at first, eventually viewers find out that the primary story revolves around the “real life” dimension of a husband (Tommy) and wife (Isabel) who are madly in love, yet face the tragic certainty of the wife’s death from brain cancer. Tommy is coincidentally a gifted cancer researcher and is pushing himself to the brink of madness to discover a cure for the tumors riddling Isabel’s body–before her time on earth is up. Note the emphasis on “time on earth,” which is essential here.

For Isabel, the line between life and death, present and past, reality and fiction, earth and heaven is very thin and certainly traversable if one is willing to believe the journey possible. Much of the movie involves Isabel begging her husband to stop his race for a cure and spend their last remaining but potentially magical days together. Most important of all, she wants him to read her novel, and ultimately write its last chapter after her death.

Isabel’s novel, titled ‘The Fountain,’ is the vehicle that moves the story between Tomas, the Spanish conquistador who quests to find the fountain of youth for his Queen, Tom the astronaut who journeys into space (seemingly via Buddhist meditation) to find a dying star and, presumably, spiritual enlightenment, and her real-life scientist-husband Tommy, who seeks to overcome “the disease of death” through his research.

Each story is about a kind of eternal life, and each centers around the Tree of Life spoken of in Genesis 3:22: “And he said: Behold Adam is become as one of us, knowing good and evil: now therefore lest perhaps he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.” Each character–Tomas, Tom, Tommy, and even Isabel herself, quests toward their own idea of immortality through a different and ultimately spiritual path.

The most beguiling view of all is perhaps that of Isabel, who believes that if a tree is planted over her body in the ground, she will not only become part of this tree but also of all the life the tree will touch–her essence ultimately soaring through the sky with the birds. (But the beautiful-sounding tree growing from the nourishing body is made utterly disturbing when we see a tree literally grow from the body of the conquistador after he drinks the sap from the Tree of Life at the Fountain of Youth.)

Is ‘The Fountain’ a beautiful story of love and life conquering death? Of a way to find life through death? Or just a terribly weird and hokey new age film that is, at times, unbelievably difficult to follow? I still can’t decide.

One thing I know: Unlike most movies of this sort, I won’t see it again. Once was enough.

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