Long-gestating Fountain drowned by own intent

The Fountain

on November 22, 2006 by Richard Mowe
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Darren Aronofsky's troubled and long-anticipated metaphysical project centering on the theme of man's quest for immortality finally emerges as too fevered and convoluted, marking a double disappointment coming from the director of Pi and Requiem for a Dream. Aronofsky sets his sprawling tale in three different epochs and preaches the ultimate lesson that “death, as part of the process of rebirth, is to be embraced, not feared.”

The eternal search at the film's over-pulsating heart comes via a "tree of life” and begins in 16th-century Spain with a conquistador (Hugh Jackman, in triple vision) who is searching for a sap that grants eternal life to whomever drinks it. Jackman manfully assumes three versions of Tomas (or Thomas or Tom) as warrior, modern-day doctor and, as the story reaches far into the future through space and time, astro-explorer, who is haunted by the love for his dying wife Izzy (Rachel Weisz, Aronovsky's real-life partner and mother of their relatively newborn child).

Although impressively mounted on a reduced budget of $40 million, rather than the $70 million originally mooted when Brad Pitt was committed to the Jackman role, it almost becomes submerged in its own earnest pretentiousness and po-faced seriousness of intent. In the gap between the completion of his original script and the actual production, Aronofsky collaborated with Kent Williams to produce a graphic novel of the narrative. Perhaps he should have closed the chapter at that stage.

Already The Fountain has provoked strong reactions both for and against: Its initial reception at the Venice Film Festival and then Deauville and Toronto mixed both boos and enthusiastic applause. Aronofsky suggests that his skeptics are the ones who are resistant to facing death. In either case, the film won't leave audiences unmoved, which is entirely in keeping with the director's track record. Starring Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn, Sean Gullette, Sean Patrick Thomas, Donna Murphy and Mark Margolis. Directed and written by Darren Aronofsky. Produced by Eric Watson, Arnon Milchan and Iain Smith. A Warner Bros. release. Sci-fi fantasy. Rated R for some violence. Running time: 96 min.

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