The Fountain (2006) by Darren Aronofsky

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Just finished watching The Fountain. Pretty heavy movie, I wouldn't recommend it unless you want to see a real downer. That being said, it has some very nice imagery, interesting storytelling and a wealth of symbolism.

A gold-hued scene in which Tom (Jackman) faces a hallucination of Isabel (Weisz) beside the Tree of Life
A gold-hued scene in which Tom (Jackman) faces a hallucination of Isabel (Weisz) beside the Tree of Life

According to Wikipedia, "The Fountain explores the themes of love and mortality, drawing influences from the The Fountain of Youth and The Tree of Life. The film is framed with visual language by using transition scenes, light, and shapes." I wish more movies used a "visual language" like this. It makes for some images that are aesthetically pleasing, yet still rich in meaning.

Here are some of the themes and memes of the film:

Death/ego loss, acceptance, reincarnation, the Maya, the land of the dead (namely, the Mayan underworld, Xibalba), The Fountain of Youth and Tree of Life (as Wikipedia mentions), the search for El Dorado, gold and the color yellow, nebulae and dying stars, parallel realities, spiritual enlightenment, writing a novel, the Garden of Eden and tree of knowledge


The main female lead, played by Rachel Weisz, is named "Izzi." I thought that this is a somewhat strange name because of its symmetry.

Aronofsky described the astronaut period as a homage to David Bowie's "Space Oddity"; the protagonist's name "Tom" originating from the Major Tom of the popular song.[18]

It seems that the Garden of Eden and Biblical symbolism makes an appearance as well ...

The Fountain begins with a paraphrase of Genesis 3:24, the Biblical passage that reflects the fall of man. Hugh Jackman emphasizes the importance of the fall in the film: "The moment Adam and Eve ate of the tree of knowledge, of good and evil, humans started to experience life as we all experience it now, which is life and death, poor and wealthy, pain and pleasure, good and evil. We live in a world of duality. Husband, wife, we relate everything. And much of our lives are spent not wanting to die, be poor, experience pain. It's what the movie's about."[24] Darren Aronofsky had also interpreted the story of Genesis as the definition of mortality for humanity. He inquired of the fall, "If they had drank from the tree of life [instead of the tree of knowledge] what would have separated them from their maker? So what makes us human is actually death. It's what makes us special."[36]

The Kabbalistic tree of life is one of the most prominent symbols throughout the film. It is acknowledged on the Wikipedia page:
In The Fountain, the Tree of Life was a central design and part of the film's three periods. The tree was based on Kabbalah's Sefirot, which depicts a "map" of creation to understand the nature of God and how he created the world ex nihilo (out of nothing). The Sefirot Tree, being two to three hundred feet tall in lore, had to be resized for The Fountain to fit in the camera's frame.[19]
More analysis from Wikipedia:

The theme of thanatophobia is described by Aronofsky as a "movement from darkness into light, from black to white", tracing the journey of a man scared of death and moving toward it.[37] The theme is highlighted by Aronofsky's use of visual language, such as shooting Jackman's characters in shadows until the story's light-saturated conclusion, while Weisz's characters are awash with light in each period.[38] Along these lines, Aronofsky made use of the color of gold, as gold was the sought-after treasure of the conquistadors. "When you see gold, it represents materialism and wealth and all these things that distract us from the true journey that we're on," Aronofsky said.[37] The director also used similar geometric constructs in the film to distinguish the three chronological narratives. The 16th century conquistador's tale reflected triangles through pyramids and constellations, the 21st century researcher's period reflected rectangles through doors, windows, and computer screens, and the 26th century contemplative's journey reflected circles and spheres through the spacecraft and stellar bodies.[39]

Darren Aronofsky emphasized that the narratives in their time periods and their respective convergences were open to interpretation. The director maintained that the film's intricacy and underlying message is "very much like a Rubik's cube, where you can solve it in several different ways, but ultimately there's only one solution at the end".[40] Critics have observed recurring, mythological references to themes of enlightenment, redemption, the Hindu concept of cycle of birth and death and moksha, the Biblical Tree of Life,[41] the Buddha,[41] and the world-tree Yggdrasil.[42] In the same vein, Jackman views the story as a modern myth that helps people to understand the meaning of life, explains the unexplainable, and fosters understanding. "These fables may not make scientific sense, but somehow they explain the world to us," said Jackman.[43] Aronofsky later explained the film has an atheist meaning. "It's about this endless cycle of energy and matter, tracing back to the Big Bang", he said. "We're all just borrowing this matter and energy for a little bit, until it goes back into everything else, and that connects us all."[44]

So, as I said, it's chock full of symbolism! A good film for discussion and analysis, though its overly long pacing and sometime hokiness (doing yoga flying through space was especially cheesy) reduces the impact of an otherwise powerful film. But, with this slow pacing and at times dreadfully repetitive and melodramatic score, it was a pain to sit through the last 20 minutes or so. Even before that, I thought they really over-did the whole emotional side of it, at the expense of exploring the themes in greater detail. This is definitely not a "talky" film, quite the opposite. And, that's fine; Film is a visual medium, after all.

But, I guess I felt that the themes didn't really progress-- sure, there was a minor character arc for the protaganist, who felt the transformation of enlightenment, or of fear into love, or whatever you want to call it. But did the audience feel any divine sparks from this? Was the character arc genuine? I certainly felt sad from the movie constantly slamming the fact home that death takes away what we cherish most, but I somehow don't think that the movie took the audience along for the transformation that the central character felt. I just couldn't relate to him doing yoga in space, or killing the Mayan priest and claiming the tree of life.

His "transformation" and change just felt tacked on, like throughout the film he didn't really have a character arc. He didn't truly change much, he just kind of kept going along as he was, until the very end where he suddenly became enlightened.

In any case, it's quite interesting to analyse the symbolism of the film, and it sure has a lot of that!


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