Tree for Two

The Fountain. Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, and Ellen Burstyn star in a film written and directed by Darren Aronofsky.

Reviewed by D.J. Palladino

Has there ever been another filmmaking era in which the “geniuses” are given so much rope with which to hang themselves, and as a result promptly do so? Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, Malick’s The New World, and now this mess from an auteur barely out of his thirties with total artistic control of his third film.

Undeniably there is an art film look to The Fountain, with its palette of tans, blacks, golds, and sudden bursts of white. It is averse to narrative, and most of the settings seem like claustrophobic mind spaces because the film is an idea, and a half-formed one at that. Aronofsky tells the story of a Spanish conquistador and an American research surgeon both inching their way toward immortality potions. To tell his story, he jumps across the eons via a work of fiction, daring to suggest that the only way we immortalize ourselves is through the act of creation. No duh.

This being a film, and Aronofsky being a genius, the stories are told with motifs of unquestionable symbol-likenesses: snow, rings, trees both barren and lush, daggers, and a gushing serum that seems to be white, sticky, and life-giving. Thus we get a lesson in creepy do-it-yourself Jung, and, just to seal the deal, Aronofsky throws in a floating lotus position, guys in bubbles, and (I swear) Kung Fu’s David Carradine in starry silhouette. The term hodgepodge is inadequate to describe this.

Finally there is the casting. Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz have been all about B movies since X-Men and The Mummy, respectively. Here they sink into caricatures of passion, and the constant smoldering is undercut by their lightweight box office images. Besides, like everything else, they function mostly as symbols. There isn’t a moment of humor in this because the characters are woven into a tapestry of cloudy meaning. It’s a head film you wouldn’t want to see stoned and Aronofsky, like all the geniuses listed above, is visually exciting, but too bent on grandeur to get anything humanly correct.

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