- Its OK, Hugh. We didnt want Brad Pitt in this movie, anyway.
The Fountain (PG-13)
Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Tinseltown
For the better part of the decade, Darren Aronofsky, the director of Pi and Requiem for a Dream, has been trying to get The Fountain made. It was first to be filmed in 2002, but when Brad Pitt walked away just weeks before the start date, investors bailed and the attempt collapsed. And Aronofsky reportedly disappeared, in a state of abject depression.
When he decided to start his centuries-spanning narrative over from scratch new sets, new cast, new script it was a struggle. And, making matters worse, Aronofsky had to make due on his second go-around with a modest $35 million $55 million less than the budget he had with Pitt on board.
In contemporary America, a neurological researcher named Tom Creo (Hugh Jackman) is racing against time to find a breakthrough treatment for brain tumors. It is the bleak prognosis facing his own terminally ill wife, Izzi (Rachel Weisz), that drives Tom to try an experimental compound from a Central American tree.
Izzi, meanwhile, has been writing a story from her research of Mayan culture and we see snippets of that story about a Spanish conquistador (also played by Jackman) seeking the fountain of youth at the request of Queen Isabella (also Weisz). And meanwhile, in a distant future, another Jackman-portrayed character this time, bald and apparently able to levitate floats skyward on a mysterious mission.
Aronofsky is out to tackle nothing less than the nature of mortality itself, earning points for having stones the size of medicine balls. He keeps the story from the realm of the purely ethereal, anchoring it in Tom's sense of helplessness over his wife's condition. "Death is a disease," Tom states matter-of-factly at one point, and Jackman's performance effectively captures a scientist completely incapable of making peace with its inevitability.
It's a thoughtful, ultimately human tale but it occupies an awkward middle ground. From the start, it's evident that Aronofsky has an epic vision for The Fountain as a quest for eternal life that spans eras. And it's equally evident that he's not able to achieve the sense of scale he truly wants.
The conquistador segments, in particular, feel pinched and under-developed, as though they were filmed on sets the size of a suburban living room. The futuristic portions achieve only a bit more grandeur.
Also, while Aronofsky manages to keep The Fountain's ideas pretty straightforward, he fails to give the film an identity. A movie like this can attempt to blow your mind with a philosophical cinematic tone poem, or it can immerse itself in the personal struggles of its characters. Aronofsky does a little bit of both and thereby doesn't really do either one enough. It's a frustrating, incomplete collision between 2001: A Space Odyssey and Terms of Endearment.
Aronofsky wanted to compose an opera about humanity's struggle to come to terms with the infinite. But with limited money and a scattered focus, what he gives us instead is a chamber quartet.