"The Fountain" has become known as a troubled production, delayed for several years and booed upon its debut in Venice. It turns out the early reaction was only half correct. The film, screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, is indeed messy, but it’s thought-provoking and beautiful as well.
Director Darren Aronofsky is clearly aspiring for a "2001" or "Solaris"-esque meditation on the nature of human existence (or in this case, the end of existence). There are also similarities to his masterful "Pi," in that the characters are rational men (mathematicians or scientists) facing discoveries that cannot be explained or tamed by scientific means. "The Fountain" is a time-spanning sci-fi romance about death and rebirth, and a couple’s attempts to control or accept mortality.
The story involves Tommy (Hugh Jackman), a scientist looking for a cure to cancer. His interest is more than professional, because his wife Izzy (Rachel Weisz) is dying from the same illness. She is writing a book called "The Fountain," about a Spanish conquistador (Tom again) tasked by the queen (Izzy) to find a tree, the sap of which will grant its imbiber eternal life. In another scenario, the tree stands in the center of a glass orb floating through space, in which we also find Tom and occasionally the spectral presence of Izzy.
"The Fountain" has allegedly undergone extensive cuts to bring it in at its current runtime of 95 minutes, and it shows. While Izzy and Tommy share an edgy chemistry, their characters lack the nuances that would make their relationship a bit more fleshed out. Tommy in particular is so angry most of the time that it can be sometimes tough to sympathize with his character. And while most of the special effects are remarkable, there are a couple moments that give off a somewhat new-agey whiff.
However, "The Fountain" has stretches that are so haunting and magisterial that they counteract many of the film’s flaws. The space travel sequences have an eerie grandeur. The urgency of Izzy’s situation, and her acceptance of it (death is "the door to awe," she says) are chilling. And the score by Clint Mansell enhances the delicate mood. In all, what Aronofsky is aspiring to with "The Fountain" may exceed his grasp, but there’s still plenty here that’s unsettlingly exquisite.
"The Fountain" currently stands at 60 percent on the Tomatometer, with some critics praising its beauty and complexity, and others saying it’s muddled and incomprehensible.