Darren AronofskyIs there such thing as a fountain of youth? Where would one find it? And could it cure one’s ailments? In “The Fountain,” maverick writer-director Darren Aronofsky searches for the mythical fountain as he explores matters of life, love, spirituality, and death in three storylines spanning 1,000 years. The film, which opens November 22 and stars Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz, was six years in the making and may be Aronofsky’s most personal project to date. Aronofsky first grabbed attention with the dark and quirky “Pi,” and then explored the devastating effects of addiction with "Requiem for a Dream,” which earned an Oscar nomination for one of its stars, Ellen Burstyn.

Aronofsky recently spoke with Beliefnet about the inspiration for “The Fountain,” the difficulty inherent to making a spiritual film, and how fatherhood is affecting his future projects.
What was the inspiration for “The Fountain”?

[It] started off with trying to figure out how to do something new in science fiction. I felt that a lot of science fiction movies pulled the genre into hardware- and techno-fetishes, and that they had sort of forgotten about metaphysical science fiction and the exploration of the inner space versus the outer space.

This was what I did in “Pi.” I’ve always pitched it as a sci-fi film, although most people don’t see it as that because there are no laser guns. But I’ve always said that it is more of an inner space movie, and I think the same thing is true with “The Fountain.” Probably one of the earliest ideas was the fountain of youth. Why has no one made a film about the search for the fountain of youth? It is a myth that’s in so many of our stories--from Gilgamesh to Genesis in the Bible all the way up to even “Nip/Tuck.” I thought it would be a good place to start.

It took six years to get this movie made. Was this an especially personal project?

I think any time you make a film, it’s a personal exercise. To get out of bed every morning and fight all the fights you need to get through it is a very hard thing unless you’re deeply passionate about something. I guess the only way I know how to do stuff is to actually be sparked and inspired.

You’ve described your first film, “Pi,” as being about “God, math, Kabbalah, and paranoia,” and you cited the Bible as part of the inspiration for “The Fountain.” What’s your own religious background?

Culturally, I am Jewish. I was raised slightly Jewish, with respect for my culture and my ancestry, but with an open mind to the connectivity of people.

How much of a role does that play in your filmmaking?

There are a lot of different religions represented in “The Fountain.” It starts off with a quote from Genesis, the Judeo-Christian text, and there’s also a lot of Buddhist, Hindu, and Mayan mythology and spirituality throughout the film. What’s always interested me is very similar spiritual shelf at the core of all these different religious beliefs. What’s holy and truthful is what connects all the different religions, and it’s the same place where myth spurts out. I try to get to that core and represent it in the film.

For example, two myths discussed in this film are the story of Adam and Eve and the myth of Mayan creation. Adam and Eve sacrificed their place in the Garden of Eden by eating from the tree of knowledge. Before they could eat from the tree of life, they were banished from the garden, and then humanity began. The story of Mayan creation is of their first father, who is their Adam. He had to sacrifice himself to create the tree of life. So you have two trees of life in two different cultures that were apart for tens of thousands of years. That connectivity is at the core of the film.

Much of “The Fountain” involves the Hugh Jackman character’s obsession with finding a cure for cancer. Was that part of the story inspired by something in your own life?

I started the film when I turned 30, which is the first time you start thinking about your own mortality. It’s a very strange feeling because when you’re in your 20s, you’re totally immortal and then, suddenly, you’re 30, which makes you realize that 50 is going be here and then one day, you’ll be 75 … So I started thinking about life and death, and at the same time my parents were both dealing with cancer. They’re both fine now, but at the time thinking about losing the people you love is what made me think about the fountain of youth.

The structure of “The Fountain,” was conceptualized as a crucifix. Can you explain that process?

The film is very much about this one man’s journey to save his love, and the character that Jackman plays is always charging. We had to come up with a way to capture that charging attitude, and one way we did that was to follow him moving left to right. Then we realized we could literally follow him from behind and also pull back with him and lead him. And because there are some sections that are in space, we decided to move up and down as well. So, it became not a crucifix, but more of a cruciform, which is like a three-dimensional crucifix. That became the shooting style for the entire film.

Unlike the rest of Hollywood, you avoid using computer generated effects in your films. Why?

I think that a lot of films have just become overly dependent on CGI (computer generated imagery). When you use that approach, it ends up not looking that good. I wanted to make something truly authentic and real and something that will look good in a year, and I find that a lot of [CGI-dominated films] don’t hold up.

Do you think it lends an organic quality to the film?

Absolutely. I think the film is very much ashes to ashes, dust to dust, a reconnection of matter and energy to an endless cycle of the fountain of life. I wanted to stay in the organic realm as much as I could.

“The Fountain” is getting a rather divided reception, from standing ovations to audible booing at its Cannes premiere. Why do you think that is?

Any time you try and bring spirituality into the narrative form, there are certain people who really just want their entertainment as a very spoon-fed, straight-ahead story. “The Fountain” has that, but it also is open to the biggest questions that people have been asking since the dawn of time: Why are we here? Why do we die? What is life? What is love? When you ask those types of questions, a lot of people just don’t care to think about them. So, the film is really for people that want to be entertained but also are open to thinking about some of the big issues.

Your films have an ongoing theme of suffering and the human condition. Would you consider yourself an existentialist filmmaker?

I had a girlfriend who once called me an existential humanist. And I kind of liked it even though I didn’t understand what she actually meant. But, I don’t really know. In high school, I tried to read and understand my Sartre and Camus, but I wasn’t a very good student.

“The Fountain” marks the first collaboration with your real-life partner, actress Rachel Weisz. Did that help or hinder the filmmaking process?

I think she’s a great, great actor. With someone like Rachel, you can just sit back and enjoy the road as a director. It was a great, great gift to be able to work with her. We tried to be professional on set and maintain that type of professionalism for everyone.

You became a father earlier this year. Do you foresee that as having an effect on future projects?

Oh, absolutely. It’s funny because I think this one new thing that we’re working on is very much connected to reproduction.

What are you working on?

I can’t talk about it, but it’s something with a deep religious base.

What do you want the audience to ultimately take away from this film, or any film?

I want people to have an enjoyable experience. The first goal of every filmmaker is to entertain an audience and after that, if you can make them think about it and talk about it, that’s exciting. But at the core, it’s just a movie. It’s just for entertainment.

more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad