Pick Of The Week: THE FOUNTAIN is Celluloid Breathed Life

Exactly what it sounds like, the Pick of the Week column is written up by the Cinapse team on rotation, focusing on films that are past the marketing cycle of either their theatrical release or their home video release. So maybe the pick of the week will be only a couple of years old. Or maybe it’ll be a silent film, cult classic, or forgotten gem. Cinapse is all about thoughtfully advocating film, new and old, and celebrating what we love no matter how marketable that may be. So join us as we share about what we’re discovering, and hopefully you’ll find some new films for your watch list, or some new validation that others out there love what you love too! Engage with us in the comments or on Twitter or Facebook! And now, our Cinapse Pick Of The Week…

Writing about what you really love can be a tricky thing. Sometimes the wellspring just flows and everything just bubbles out naturally. This is not one of those times. In preparation I polled Cinapse readers on Twitter to vote from a short list on which film they’d most like to see me profile. The Fountain handily won, bringing me both great pleasure and fear because it’s my one of my most cherished films, yet also one that’s very difficult and vulnerable for me to write about.

The Fountain is a film that is so absolutely beautiful, so immensely powerful, so impossibly perfect, so brimming with love, life, and spirituality, that I’m struck mute by it. I can only stand in awe and repugnant stupidity, mouth agape but no words coming out, completely unqualified to bear witness to its transcendence, and yet foolishly continuing in a futile attempt to do just that.

So as one does when unsure of where to begin, I’ll start at the beginning. I know it’s in poor taste to babble in first person rather than directly address the film, but this is my experience.

The Fountain interested me from the start with the allure of its lush visual aesthetic. I knew Aronofsky to be an interesting filmmaker and already counted myself a fan of his musical collaborator, Clint Mansell. I missed the film theatrically, though, and events conspired to delay me further. I purchased the HD-DVD, but my copy was defective. The flipper disc had a DVD side, but I refused to watch what was obviously a very visual film in anything less than the best presentation possible. The point to all this is that I ended up experiencing the film in an unusually reversed fashion.

As I said, I was already a big fan of the music of Aronofsky’s musical collaborator, Clint Mansell. Before I ever watched the film, his score, which is truly magnificent and worthy of celebration, became one of my favorite albums: rich with melancholy strings and earthy rhythms, moments of quietude and emotive swells, and recurring themes that echo and build in passionate arrangements. I listened to it constantly. I put it on when I went to bed and let it shape my sleep.

When I finally got around to watching the film, it was a resultantly unique experience. Even though I was watching everything through new eyes, there was an underlying familiarity and deep affection to everything that transpired on the screen. Not only was I acutely aware of how well the music contributed to the storytelling, but I inadvertently became an extension of the film’s themes of renewal and rebirth, because the music that I already loved was also affected — each note now fulfilled its ultimate purpose and gained the fullness of completion, married to screen and script. I share this with the hope that if you already love this film as I do, you can experience some of this singular pleasure through my telling. And if you’ve never seen it, maybe steep yourself in the music first. I truly believe that I stumbled onto a very rare and uplifting experience by doing so.

The Fountain tells three parallel stories, or more accurately, the same story in interconnected parallels. In the central contemporary story, Tommy (Hugh Jackman) is a medical research doctor desperate to find a cure for the cancer which eats away at his beloved wife, Izzi (Rachel Weisz), whom he he loves passionately. He frantically pushes the boundaries of science and ethics to will a medical breakthrough into existence, but the great, cruel tragedy is that his all-consuming work keeps him from being with his beloved in the precious time that she has left.

Meanwhile, Izzi writes a book in which the pair are paralleled in a Spanish conquistador and his Queen, whom he loves, as Europe is enveloped in the darkness and brutality of the Spanish Inquisition. She tasks him with the quest of finding the Biblical Tree Of Life, discovered to be hidden in a Mayan temple (hereby tying into Izzi’s interest in Mayan mythology as a metaphor of death and rebirth).

This tome seems to be merely her work of mystical, historical fiction, but she asks him to complete it for her. The third parallel (which perhaps tells his story from the fulfillment of this task) is that of a futuristic vision — the lovelorn Tommy travels through space with the Tree Of Life, still seeking his lost beloved and heading for the distant star of Xibalba, which in life Izzi believed to represent rebirth.

It’s all a bit dense on paper, but on the screen it’s breathtaking, achingly beautiful, and a transcendental experience. Viewers may find it a bit difficult to understand at first, but the film unravels its mystery as it progresses, bringing different threads together to make sense of previous clues and reveal new truths and parallel revelations. The way in which this unfolds is phenomenal, breathtaking storytelling, though I omit further details because that’s for the viewer to discover. I believe the film’s moments of death, rebirth, and new life springing forth — you’ll know them when you see them — are as visually resplendent as anything I’ve ever encountered in the whole of cinema, and complemented by perfectly matched moments of Mansell’s emotive score.

The first time I viewed The Fountain, I immediately fell in love with it. More recently, not only did I get the opportunity to view theatrically in rich, pristine 35mm at the Alamo Drafthouse, but I was now married to a woman that I love completely, further fueling the film’s hold over me. The Fountain is a film that makes me sit and weep quietly and thank God for his gifts of love, life, and cinema.

A/V Out.

Get it at Amazon:

The Fountain – [Blu-ray] | [DVD] | [Instant]

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