The Fountain (film)

The Fountain (Directed by Darren Aronofsky)/2006

What is the significance of illness and death? Is it something that can be overcome or something that is part of the course? So much energy and resource goes into keeping ourselves healthy and alive.  Even in my life: eating fruit and vegetables, plenty of water, vitamins and gym.  Moreover, there are more drastic or bizarre health-promotion measures on which you can spend all the money in the world.

On the one hand, it can be argued that illness and death is something polar opposite to human existence because they are the decline and disappearance of existence.  This is contrasted by the Buddhist view that death and reincarnation is part of life.

The Fountain deals with these two opposing views represented by two lovers. Tommy (Hugh Jackman) is determined to defeat illness and death and acquire eternal life for his love Izzi (Rachel Weisz).  He repeats his quest in various cycles of life and we see him go through the same determination and frustration.  In the past he was a knight in search of the tree of life for his queen and in the present he is a scientist in search of a cure for his wife’s tumor.  We see these lives against the background of the “eternal state” of Tommy.

Generally my impression of Aronofsky’s work is that he is a literal director.  Here he aims to express a metaphysical concept literally and comes across a bit cheesy as we see Tommy in his “eternal state” in a monk’s get-up floating in a bubble across the vast universe accompanied by his tree of life and apparitions of Izzi.  Nevertheless the message is clear: Tommy’s very being, even in his eternal wise state, still demonstrates the obsession he has shown in all his lives.  Some reviewers think that Tommy in a bubble-state represented Tommy in the future; however I disagree because in his bubble-state Tommy has an understanding of all of his past lives where in his other lives he did not have this awareness.

In my opinion this is one of the weaker works of Aronofsky. The story essentially expresses the Buddhist theory of human existence and there is nothing particularly special about the message.  Literal expression of metaphysical concepts comes across like patronising spoon-feeding, which is unlike Aronofsky’s other works, such as Requiem or Black Swan, where a literal presentation of personal experiences heightens the disturbing quality of the film.  The film overall however is beautifully crafted and the acting superb. The interaction between Tommy and Izzi reflects the genuine raw emotions humans feel: the desperation of staying alive and the calm acceptance of the end.  When Tommy finally lets go from his obsessions, he is freed.

While the film suggests the superiority of Buddhist theory, I think whether or not one wants to pursue extended or even eternal life is an individual choice based on one’s view of human existence in the universe.

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