Monday, November 20, 2006

THE FOUNTAIN

Some people do drugs. I do movies.

I’ve been going to them as far back as I can remember. I’ve seen hundreds, probably even thousands of films over the course of my life, but I have never been to anything like what writer/director Darren Aronofsky has created here. Talk is already forming comparing it to 2001: A Space Odyssey, but this is not that. This is a whole other film, and it has a poetry, elegance, grace, and flow unlike any film I can recall. The best description I can think of came from Aronofsky's account of what his producer told him after reading the first draft of the film - a love poem to death. I know I post mostly positive reviews, largely because I go in with varying expectations and most of the movies I see at least meet those. But I had enormous expectations for this, beyond any I’ve had before any film before, and it exceeded them even further.

This film impacted me so profoundly; I won’t be able to really get a grasp on how strongly I feel about it for a long time and after several viewings. It would kill me to spoil a second of its beauty to you all, but I had to post something to get everyone to see it. Not only because years, maybe even decades from now, it’ll be a classic, and not only because I really can’t wait to talk about it, and not only because it’ll be one of those great movies the Oscars won’t pick up on, but because it’s just a movie that needs to be seen. Not just seen to be believed, but it just pours its heart and soul out with every passing frame, and the idea that there wouldn’t even be people to listen just kills me.

By the end of it, you might not even like it. I say this only because there are reviews from people who didn’t*. I don't understand many of the criticisms, which mostly revolve around confusion over the plot and the very questions that make the film so intriguing. Usually, with the films I really fall for, I can find the things that really only work for a select crowd that I just happen to be a part of. Not so here (but then again, I don’t know if I’ve ever come across a film I’ve loved so much, certainly not on first viewing). It does ask you to take a leap on a number of levels, its narrative, which is complex but not overly complicated, being the least yet most immediate. I pieced it together a few hours after walking out, which I don’t point to as a sign of my intelligence but rather that all the clues are really there for you; just don’t expect them all right away, and they may not hit you until hours after. But I don’t really think you should fault a film for asking you to focus, and to trust it. If you’re willing to take that leap, I guarantee you will be rewarded exponentially.

I’ve read that part of the reason it hasn’t worked for some audiences is that it deals with its theme and emotions and ideas so sincerely and straightforward, but its plot not so much, that it’s too much of a reverse from what we’re used to (straightforward plot, lesser emphasis on emotion). It earnestly tackles huge ideas and feelings of life, love, immortality, eternity, mortality, and ultimately death, and it succeeds in the span of only 98 minutes. And don't worry, even though the film deals predominantly and extensively with death, it’s done with a sort of grace and reverence and beauty. Never once is it depressing; sad at times, sure (I came about as close to crying as I am capable), but by the end I was left totally speechless, greatly moved, but also very much at peace.

“What is it about?” I’ve been telling lots of people to go see this, and every time I get that question I’m never really sure how to answer it, at least without spoiling anything. But here’s what I can give you, because it’s also pretty much covered in the trailer. In 16th century Spain, a conquistador (Hugh Jackman) is sent by his queen (Rachel Weisz) to search for the mythical tree of life, which she believes carries the secret to eternal life. In the present, a scientist (Jackman) is working overtime to develop a cure for cancer while his wife (Weisz) is dying of it. In the 26th century, an astronaut of sorts (Jackman) is traveling through space, haunted by the past. And don’t worry, this will all make sense in the end, but it should go without saying that everything is connected and everything matters.

The visuals are just stunning, and those are what will stand out to you the most when you first see it (although before very long, you’ll figure out how much the sound design plays into the film). If you come away with nothing else, you’ll at least have seen a beautiful array of visuals and sounds that is, on a purely technical level, one of the most perfect films ever made. Most amazing, the space sequence utilized almost no computer-generated imagery (CGI), only using it as a touch-up or to combine elements. Instead, it was all created in Petri dishes using microscopic chemical reactions. They filmed those, and blew them up. And that’s their outer space. Not only does it look spectacular, but it’s what’ll go into making the film a classic – the effects are timeless. As great as King Kong (2005) looks now, in five years even it will look dated. The Fountain won’t. Aronofsky recognizes that special effects are so often used for mere spectacle, and instead uses them to another end—grace. Grace is hard to find in films, from the biggest of the blockbusters to the smallest of the independents. And yet here it is.

But all would be for naught without Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz. Jackman especially…we’ve never seen him like this before, and I wonder if, had he never done this, we would have ever found out how truly talented he is. Not only did he finally make me forget Wolverine. It’s the best performance of the year, easily, and it’s just thrilling, heartbreaking, and exhilarating to watch him. He achieves a depth and vulnerability many actors dare not reach for. He plays three different characters (sort of), each distinctly defined both in the writing and in Jackman’s performance. In the 16th century, he’s a Spanish conquistador searching for the secret to eternal life. In the present, he’s a scientist searching for a cure for cancer. In the future, he’s…well, to say anything of the future would be telling. But it ends up being a lot of people’s favorite part of the film, and it’s the part that relies most on Jackman. And wow, does he bring it home.

Weisz is also very good as the woman who drives him to do everything he does, not quite up there with her revelatory work in criminally underrated The Constant Gardener, but she plays a lot of small, yet distinct notes really, really well. She conveys more with her eyes than most actresses out there, and it’s really exciting to watch both her and Hugh come into their own with this. Together, they and Aronofsky form this wonderfully touching, tragic, heartfelt love story that’s at the center of an epic tale spanning a thousand years. Not a romance story; there’s not a lot, if any, of those “cutesy” moments that you can watch and say, “yeah, me and this girl were just like that.” This is a LOVE story in the biggest, most profoundly personal sense of the word.

It’s been almost a week, and I still haven’t totally shaken this film. Little moments keep coming back to me, lines and imagery and sounds and feelings and I’ve listened to this one song from the soundtrack every day since and even that just brings back the rush of emotions I had going during the film (and the score as a whole is a brilliant piece of work…just beautiful).

I don’t tell you guys to go see many films. I recommend a fair share, usually with some provisions, but mostly I leave you to gather what you will from what I write. But this is one that’s just too good. It’s not just the best film of the year, it’s the best film that’s come along in…I don’t even know. Might be the best I’ve ever seen. So I’m telling you—see this film. If you’re not willing to take the leap, I guess don’t bother. Nothing I can do to help you. But I really do believe you’ll all enjoy the film if you open your mind and your heart to it. It’s beautiful, heartbreaking, spiritual, and transcendent, and unlike any other movie I have ever seen. And it reminds me not only of why I go to movies, but of what film, and in a larger sense stories themselves, are capable of accomplishing.

The Fountain opens nationwide on Wednesday, November 22nd, and despite what the trailer and some other ads have said, is rated PG-13.

NOTES

The link at the title will take you to the film's trailer, which you should only watch if you need further convincing. If this article was enough, you're better off knowing as little as possible.

*And yes, as of this writing, The Fountain is not in good standing at Rotten Tomatoes, but it would hardly be the first time that some critics were unprepared for a piece of groundbreaking cinema. And it's worth noting that it received ten-minute standing ovations during screenings that were open to the public, or the average audience.

3 comments:

Ben said...

great review, can't wait to see it

Chuck said...

I will have to see this too. I saw Borat and Bond last weekend and was very happy with both. Borat doesn't make a great date movie though, just to throw that out there.

Miguel said...

Guh...amazing.