Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Fountain

My local grocery store has a bargain bin full of cheapie DVD movies. It's one of my personal weaknesses. I simply cannot go to the grocery store on even so simple a mission as acquiring a loaf of bread and a bag of milk without being drawn, as if by some invisible, irresistible force, to the DVD bargain bin.

Being a "bargain bin" after all, most of the offerings therein tend to be of the variety that a regular video store couldn't give away, including such titles as "Old Yeller - The 'You Shot My Dog' Edition" and "Barrie the Barber - Uncut".

You can imagine that such stimulating titles as that tend to stay in the bargain bin for week after week after interminable week, so it's not as though I'm likely to find anything new from one visit to the next. I know this. My rational intellect explains this to me each and every visit. Yet my feet stubbornly insist on moving toward the DVD bin, almost of their own accord, because one never knows what bargain-priced gems one might uncover if one but digs deeply enough into the bowels of the collection. (Let me take this opportunity to assure my fellow shoppers that I do tend to make the DVD bin my last stop, as I'm not so thoughtless as to handle food intended for human consumption after immersing my hands in the ick of some of the titles to be found therein).

In my own defense, I have rescued a handful of palatable titles from the quagmire in my day, and have even uncovered the occasional, albeit rare, gem. It is most likely this that keeps me going back. Ever the optimist am I. Still, most of the titles that I've acquired in this manner are passable at best.

The store management, having apparently entered into a partnership with Satan, have deviously priced their bargain bin movies at $7.99 apiece, or two for $10.00. This means that, should I happen to stumble upon the occasional title that actually interests me, I invariably feel compelled to include a second selection, because it apparently makes more sense to me to shell out an extra five dollars for a title in which I have little or no interest than to pay an extra $2.99 for something that I actually want. It is in this manner that I came into possession of "The Fountain".

"The Fountain" (© Warner Brothers, 2006) directed by Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream) and starring Hugh "Wolverine" Jackman (X-Men) and Rachel Weisz (The Mummy), is not a movie that I particularly craved for my collection. I'd never even seen it before purchasing it, nor had I even so much as seen a trailer. I only purchased it as a "second" to bring down the price of something else that I actually wanted from $7.99 to $5.00. Still, the cover artwork and the short write-up on the back cover sounded mildly interesting, so I decided to take a chance. Here's how the writers of the jewel case copy sought to tantalize me (please feel free to read the following aloud in your very best "Don LaFontaine" voice):

"Yesterday, today, tomorrow. Past, present, future. Through time and space, one man embarks on a bold 1000-year odyssey to defeat humankind's most indomitable foe: Death.

Hugh Jackman plays that man, devoted to one woman (Rachel Weisz) and determined to protect her from forces that threaten her existence. His quest leads him to a Tree of Life ... and to an adventure into eternity."

Sounds fascinating, no? A "1000-year odyssey" certainly sounds epic! The reference to the "Tree of Life", combined with still shots of Hugh Jackman dressed up as a Spanish Conquistador conjured up images in my mind of Ponce de Leon and the mythical Fountain of Youth. Yes! That must be what the "Fountain" in the title refers to! The bit about "one man, devoted to one woman (being) determined to protect her from forces that threaten her existence" sounds disturbingly "chick-flicky" but, no matter, mayhap this might entice my better half to watch the movie with me.

Having since watched to movie, I'm reminded of a scene from "The Simpsons" in which Bart, Milhouse and Nelson" see "Naked Lunch", apparently mistaking it for an adult film, and emerge from the theatre some time later, looking very disappointed. Nelson quips "I can think of at least two things wrong with that title!". After viewing "The Fountain", I shared Nelson's sentiments. I'm not certain exactly what the titlical "Fountain" refers to, but I can state categorically that there is no fountain to be seen anywhere in the film. Not a one. Not even so much as a lawn sprinkler! Well, okay, there's a sort of pool of water with a tree growing out of one end of it, but it's not what I would call a "fountain" by the strictest definition of the word. This is just the first, and most obvious, indication that "The Fountain" is to be anything but straightforward. On the up-side, it's certainly no chick-flick either.

The movie begins, promisingly enough, with Hugh Jackman, as a Spanish conquistador, in an South American jungle with a band of his fellows, preparing to infiltrate an Aztec pyramid on a quest for ... we don't know what at this point, but it seems to have to do with a woman (perhaps a queen?) and a ring. Predictably, a trap is sprung and the hapless handful of Spanish soldiers find themselves surrounded by hordes of Aztec warriors. Equally predictably, Jackman's "stalwart" companions immediately turn tail and run, leaving him to face the horde alone. He, of course, puts up a valiant fight, taking out several warriors before being relatively quickly overcome. Somewhat formulaic so far, but good, solid "guy" fare nonetheless.

Rather than killing him immediately, as one might expect, the Aztecs prod him to climb the pyramid, which he of course does (no doubt thinking "Well why didn't you say so? That's what we were going to do anyway!") only to find an Aztec priest awaiting him at the top. The priest inserts a ceremonial dagger into Jackman's abdomen, crying "Death is the road to awe!" (why don't you try it yourself if you think its such a trip?) and then, just in case the dagger doesn't do the trick, swings a flaming sword, at his neck.

Jackman cries out (well who wouldn't?) except that, suddenly, he's no longer a conquistador. No, he suddenly finds himself as hairless as Patrick Stewart, sitting in a lotus position, floating amidst the stars inside of a giant glass bubble which appears to be racing toward a giant nebula and which contains a large tree. It is at this point that one begins to suspect that this movie may be better appreciated after ingesting your favorite mind-altering substance.

Approaching the tree, the monk-like Jackman reaches out to touch its trunk, which appears to be covered in fine hairs, not unlike the hairs found on human skin, which seem to stand up as if drawn toward his outstretched fingertips. He whispers something inaudible to the tree, then scrapes off a bit of its bark and eats it. Suddenly, a woman appears who looks remarkably like the one who sent him on his Aztec quest. He asks her what she's doing there. She beckons him to take a walk with her, and the scene changes again.

Now they're in a modern, 21st century home. Jackman now looks much more contemporary having regained a full head of hair (but not the conquistador's beard). He is a young doctor, we learn, and he is summoned to a lab where a Reese monkey is being prepped for brain surgery. The nature of the monkey's ailment is not made clear, but it is clear that his chances of survival are not good. A sudden flash of inspiration causes Dr. Jackman to inject the monkey with an extract from some exotic Guatemalan tree. Predictably, the monkey later makes a miraculous recovery.

I certainly don't want to give away any spoilers for those of you who may be intrigued enough to see the movie at this point so let me just summarize by saying that the rest of the movie continues to jump around between Spanish conquistador, 21st century and cosmic space bubble. Along the way we follow several seemingly disjointed yet strangely connected plot points involving a wedding ring, a dying star and an unfinished book. The only constants are Hugh Jackman, the woman (Rachel Weisz) and, of course, the ubiquitous tree. The overarching storyline involves the quest for immortality.

While I certainly wouldn't rank it among my top ten, or even top one hundred, favorite movies of all time, "The Fountain" is not what I'd call a bad movie; just a bewildering one. I suspect that another viewing or too may reveal subtleties that I missed the first time around. The fact that I'm willing to endure same in the interest of finding out if I'm right is probably the best testimonial I can give the work.


Martin said...

I like diving in the dvd dumpsters too. Heck, I picked up an old Lee Van Cleef movie for $1.99. That Hugh Jackman movie does sound like a loser, though.

Halmanator said...

Ah, but I never said that it was a loser. I said that it was bewildering, and it is.

As a postscript, I made a point of not reading any reviews about this movie before writing my own, as I didn't want to taint my impressions with anyone else's. Having done so, I went to Roger Ebert's website to find out what he had to say about the film.

He didn't like it either, but he postulates that any movie that spans a thousand years yet runs for only 96 minutes must have had some scenes cut from it. His theory is that The Fountain was conceived as a much better movie than it is, but was mutilated due to budgetary constraints. You can read his full review here.

Also noteworthy, Ebert suspects that most people who saw the movie didn't understand it. He found one other reviewer who did, and he was apparently impressed enough with that review that he published it on his own web site.

That reviewer actually enjoyed the movie and, I have to admit, having read his take on it, I suspect that he's figured the film out, and I must admit that I didn't get it either. You can read that review here.

Damn! Now I'm really going to have to watch it again!

Martin said...

I know YOU didn't say it was a loser. I simply said that it sounds like a loser ... in my eyes.

As an aside, I fail to understand Ebert's point. OF COURSE it would have been conceived as a better movie than it is. Noone sets out to make an unsuccessful movie!

I have a feeling that behind almost movie ever made, there are some elements of greatness ... people working hard to make something special, whether they are in casting, acting, directing, editing, whatever. But they have to come together to make a movie truly work.

Sometimes a movie will grab you for some reason, even if it is flawed. You see something special in it, as apparently you have with this flick.

Just to stir the pot a bit, though, I haven't seen a Hugh Jackman movie that I liked yet. Ha!

Tubes said...

I rented this movie years ago! I too struggled with it. Somehow I recall that I made peace with it. Since it was a rental, I was not going to rent it twice to make sure!
Strange indeed.

Tubes said...

I might add that I rented it for the same reasons that you did.

Anonymous said...

I implore you to watch it a second time...
Maybe even a third time.
I concede that its not the easiest movie to digest at first. It challenges the viewer to have a long enough attention span to put the dots together. Sometimes this means watching it a second time.

To post the first scenes as plainly as you have, you have inadvertently misled your readers of the true context.

I'll explain...

The Spanish Conquistador and his search for the Tree of Life is actually Hugh Jackman's IMAGINATION of the story his wife Izzi was writing before she died.

The present day Hugh Jackman, who is searching for the cure to death, is the MEMORY of Hugh Jackman.

Finally, the bald Spaceman Hugh Jackman is the true PRESENT DAY, as he travels to the nebula his wife was so intrigued by during her last days.

Spoiler alert: The tree living inside the space bubble IS his wife. It's the tree he planted 500 years earlier over her burial site. He's taking her to the nebula and therefore sacrificing himself to finally die with her (as her new incarnation). As he travels to the Nebula, he's trying to figure out how to complete the story Izzi was writing, which was one of her dying wishes.

Also...If you're confused as to how Hugh Jackman is still alive in 2500, then its simply because not long after the present day (2000), him and his team discovered the cure for death, which means as an immortal, he can only be with his wife again, if he sacrifices his life... and what better way than to do so than to take his space bubble to the nebula?

The two versions of his wife Izzi who he sees in the bubble with him and the tree are simply figments of his imagination. He has been traveling in that spacecraft for an unimaginable amount of years alone, and he only has his memories to talk to. Some argue that its in fact her ghost since she is the tree, but I think its his own thoughts and memories.

Its a great movie once its understood, and after watching all of Aranofsky's movies, I have to say that its easily his best and most ambitious, to date. Not every one is willing to or wanting to think during movies, and I totally respect that because I will often go for the simpler movies like The Transformers or The Hangover; but for those who like to think, and like to have their intellects massaged and stimulated, then I highly recommend the Fountain...

And watch it a second time, if the first time is too confusing for you. Its like Fight Club, in that, the more you watch it, the better it gets.