Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Starring Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn, Sean Patrick Thomas, Mark Margolis. (2006, PG-13, 96 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Nov. 24, 2006
Like some epic figure of yore, writer/director Aronofsky has allowed his hubris to get the better of him. Whereas we indulged this filmmaker with his stunning low-budget debut Pi, a black-and-white rush of science mysticism and paranoia that felt fresh but added up to little more than a showpiece, and nominated Ellen Burstyn for an Oscar for her tortured turn as a Coney Island housefrau-as-speedfreak in Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, this time the filmmaker has come up with the proverbial dry well. Still, this has not prevented him from gathering a jumble of grade-school metaphysics, history, and myth and tossing them onto the screen with nary a hint of character, plot, or reason. “Death is the road to awe,” is something the characters in each of the movie’s three different time periods are fond of saying. Sounds good, I suppose, and maybe it’s true. But why then do the characters in each of The Fountain’s time periods search for the Tree of Life (or fountain)? His characters can’t even be certain if it’s life or death that they seek – and Aronofsky wants us invest in their outcomes? Okay, so the movie doesn’t make too much sense and the characters are only shells, but at least (thanks to Aronofsky’s regular director of photography Matthew Libatique) The Fountain is a stunner to look at, even if the narrative entryways into each of the three time periods can prove rough passage. The story in the present day has research scientist Tommy (Jackman) racing to find a cure for the brain tumor that is killing his wife Izzi (Weisz), who has written (in perfect script) an unfinished manuscript about Mayan mysticism. In the 16th century, Jackman plays a conquistador named Tomas, who is in the New World seeking out the Tree of Life for his queen, Isabella of Spain (Weisz again). In the future, Jackman sports a shaved head as Tom Creo, who travels through time and space in a big clear bubble. It’s astonishing here how Jackman, who of late has been one of the hardest-working actors in show business, is so totally drenched of personality. (Planning of the film has undergone numerous permutations since 1999 when it was first developed with Brad Pitt in mind for the lead.) Weisz, who is fast developing into one of those love-her-or-hate-her actors and is also Aronofsky’s fiancée, is given absolutely nothing to do but play the muse. Aronofsky’s reach far exceeds his grasp with this film, and the muddle he concocts makes one wonder if there was ever a solid foundation for The Fountain. Hope may spring eternal, but this fountain is a dry hole. (See Chronicle interview with Aronofsky).