I don’t remember when I saw the trailer for the first time. I know what theater I was at: Edwards 22 Ontario (California, not Canada). I remember blown away and excited.
I then remember when the second trailer came and it had been downgraded to a PG-13 to an R. I immediately though, “Oh no, the Man has destroyed Aronofsky’s vision” which, after Requiem for a dream I thought was impossible. That was an unflinching film that dealt with drug addiction.
Now he was flinching on what seemed unflinchable topics: love and death.
Plus, Wolverine was the male lead. So that didn’t sit well with me either.
The final nail that made me more leery than excited was that the movie was only 90 minutes long. Why was this? Because this is a movie where Aronofsky has stuffed everything about life, across 1000 years, and that alone seems like more subject matter than 90 minutes can handle.
Needless to say, and luckily, I was completely blown away. This is a movie that uses its running time in fascinating ways.
This story is spaced across 1,000 years, and posited as parallel love stories in 1500, 2000, and 2500, all with the same characters played by the same actors.
In 1500, Hugh Jackman is a conquistador and Rachel Weisz is the Queen of Spain. In 2000, she’s dying of cancer, and he’s trying to find the cure. In 2500, she’s… a tree and a disembodied voice, and I think he’s a Buddhist flying through space in a bubble trying to reach the Mayan afterlife.
You could interpret this film a lot of different ways, but, for me, this is how it works:
1500 is the book that Weisz is writing. It represents her way of understanding why present day Hugh Jackman is spending so much time at the lab trying to find a cure. He’s scaling the earth, trying to find a cure for cancer. The cancer in this story is both death and the Inquisition.
2000 is the anchor of the story that everything swirls around.
2500 is the final chapter of the book after Weisz commands Jackman to “Finish It.” See, this is him basically writing her a eulogy, telling her that this is how far he would go to find a cure. He would take the tree and his memories to Xibalba to be with her again. He would do whatever it takes to be with her forever. But, at the same time, the tree that will grow and his memories will remain forever, even after she is gone.
The future is the hardest one to parse together, symbolically. See, the biggest key to me that it’s fake is that Jackman has his wedding ring back that had gone missing earlier in the film.
But then there’s the fact that he may’ve just discovered both the tree of life and the cure for dying thereby hypothetically enabling him to live long enough to get him to Xibalba. So, it’s open for interpretation.
Cohering these three stories are both the two lead actors who play a part in each one as well as amazing parallel cinematography by Matthew Libatique, who has worked with Aronofsky all all his films to date (and Iron Man 2!). There is this amazing shot that you see in the trailers of things passing under the camera, starting right side up and ending upside down. This shot is used with Jackman on Horseback, Jackman in a car, and Jackman in a bubble. These are his ways of getting to and from her. There are the shots of the hair on the Rachel Weisz’s neck billowing as Jackman speaks close to her skin, then doing the same when she is a tree, with the follicles on the bark standing on end, signifying her life.
This movie divides a great number of people along lines of “it’s bloated, pretentious, and terrible,” and “It’s insightful, beautiful, and heart-wrenching.”
I understand the former group’s lament. The film can seem pretentious, but most films that attempt to stuff everything a young filmmaker knows can come off that way. Just be glad it’s only 90 minutes long.
This line, though, seems to be created around a lot of great films, though–with few exceptions: like Godfather and Citizen Kane. But then there are films that are considered genius to selected groups. Movies like Brazil that are fascinating but also a base-level clusterfuck; or movies like Blue Velvet that disgust far too many people to ever garner unilateral acclaim. This movie, hopefully, will fall into the category of divisive classics.
Every time I’ve seen this movie, I’ve cried. This is a film that builds up your hopes, then tears them apart, then gets really fucking weird.
I like that.
 Something that worries me, while we’re on the subject: That Crash and Slumdog Millionaire, two of the worst I’ve films I’ve seen in a long time, will fall into this category. Those movies are goddamned terrible and I really hope that future critics don’t retroject a unilateral acclaim in these films just because they won the most overrated award in history. Give me a fucking break.