The Fountain – Darren Aronofsky’s masterful meditation on love and immortality
In 2006, director Darren Aronofsky unleashed a film of astonishing beauty and complex magnitude upon the world. This was what we still consider to be his greatest work and one of our all time favourite films – The Fountain.
Written by Aronofsky and Ari Handel, and starring Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz (Aronofsky’s partner at the time), The Fountain explores the tale of a man who finds the secret of immortality, moments after his wife dies. After becoming immortal he takes the cure for death (a tree from South America) with him into the dark reaches of space. The narrative also features a Conquistador segment, which is a visualisation of the book that Izzy was writing as her way to express her husband’s hunt for immortality.
The above is, at least, our interpretation of what is a very profound and complex narrative. There are varying theories on what actually happens within the film and on which of the narrative threads are real. What is certain is that Aronofsky created something very special and in its own way, immortal in the vault of cinema, for those who hold a true passion for this film.
Under the helm of Throwback Thursday, we take a look back, in awe, at Aronofsky’s Science Fiction masterpiece.
Please be aware that there are spoilers for The Fountain below.
The narrative is the core of this film and the main reason that cinephiles hold so much love and admiration for it and are likely to return to it for years to come. Rarely in Hollywood do you see scripts as bold and thought-provoking as this. Many Hollywood films shy away from plots that might baffle audiences, but Aronofsky wades here wholeheartedly into a story that requires keen attention, multiple viewings and a true admiration of beauty (even beauty in the form of death).
Aronofsky’s narrative focuses on two primary themes. These are immortality (a common SF trope) and undying love. This is very firmly a Science Fiction film, yet you don’t see many SF films that pull off a romance element as well as The Fountain. Most SF films treat their romance (if they have one) as a cursory plot mechanism that dances around the SF content. Here, love is as much at the core of the narrative – if not more – as the intriguing SF concepts.
The narrative structure of Aronofsky’s film is unique in that it has three strands to it, each of which we have detailed below.
The Conquistador/The past
Firstly, there is the Conquistador segment (which can also be referred to as the segment set in the past, despite it being a fictionalised narrative). This is most likely a visualisation of Izzy’s book, for the viewer’s benefit. In this book, Izzy takes on the role of the Spanish Queen and Tom takes on the role of a Conquistador who is loyal to the Queen. The Conquistador setting out in search of the tree of life echoes Tom’s real life struggle to save Izzy from death. At the end of the film, Tom finished Izzy’s book with his own ending.
The Scientist/The present
The next segment is set in the present and is most likely real, rather than fiction. This is Tom’s quest, as a scientist, to find the cure for death, so that he can save Izzy. He and his lab team perform tests on monkeys, to trial different potential cures. Izzy – Tom’s partner – is slowly dying and spends her remaining days seeking joy and imploring Tom to spend time with her. Tom clearly loves his wife, but deems spending time on saving her as the more important task. Izzy is able to find a beauty in dying and often states that she is not longer scared.
The Immortal/The future
The third segment is set in the distant future (the ink of his skin implying the length of time that has passed). Tom now floats in space with the tree of life, within a protective bubble – presumably long after the destruction of Earth – on his way to the dying nebula titled Xibalba. Izzy appears to him in visions, but this is only his memory of her, which serves to haunt and plague him. Tom’s initial goal is to save the tree, but he fails at this, stating “I almost made it; I’m sorry.” Following this, Tom learns to embrace death wholeheartedly as a way to become part of nature (echoed earlier on in the film by Izzy telling Tom about the First Father who “sacrificed himself to make the world,” using “death as an act of creation”). This is why the Conquistador narrative ends with Tom turning into a bush – Tom finishes Izzy’s story in this manner because of his own decision to embrace death and be recycled by nature.
A large part of what makes Aronofsky’s film so wholly effective is Clint Mansell’s masterful score. Without it, the level of beauty and emotion within the film would be considerably lessened.
As the film begins, remnants of the score are laced hauntingly into the background of simple scenes, all building up to the film’s final act; when Tom chooses death via Xibalba the score explodes into a wall of beautiful sound (titled ‘Death is the Road to Awe’), marking one of our favourite scores in any film.
Mansell is well established and respected within the film industry. Following The Fountain, Aronofsky retained him for a number of subsequent projects, such as Black Swan and Noah. Mansell is also resposible for another of our all time favourite film scores – 2009’s Moon.
Matthew Libatique is the man behind The Fountain‘s stunning cinematography (much of which is assisted, of course, by CGI effects). Yellow is the colour theme that Libatique leans on very heavily, even right down to monkey X-Rays, room lighting and Tom and Izzy’s pet bird being different variations of the same yellowish hue.
From homely snowy settings, to the hearts of forests, to the depths of space, the entire film is sumptuously gorgeous throughout. It blew us away visually when we first saw the film and we’ve never seen anything quite like it since.
There is also a graphic novel for The Fountain that was actually released in 2005 – one year prior to the release of the film. This was illustrated by Kent Williams and published by Vertigo. On this comic, Aronofsky has commented:
“I knew it was a hard film to make and I said at least if Hollywood f*cks me over, at least I’ll make a comic book out of it.”
Aronofsky’s statement reveals that this comic book was a contingency plan of sorts then and it can now be viewed as a companion piece for the film that fans can delve into if they want something more. The back of the graphic novel promotes the comic as ‘the ultimate Director’s Cut’, which implies that this the truest and most complete form of Aronofsky’s narrative. We suggest picking the graphic novel up if you’re a fan of the film.
Are you – like us – a cinephile who holds The Fountain in the utmost highest regard? Is it your favourite Aronofsky film, or do films like Pi, Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan or The Wrestler surpass The Fountain for you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Image credits: Warner Bros., Regency Enterprises, Protozoa Pictures, New Regency Pictures, Muse Entertainemnt Enterprises, Mel’s Cite du Cinema, Vertigo