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9x9x9 day 4: The Fountain–what if you could live forever?

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[1]. 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[2]. 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.[3] 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.

 


 

[1] Look, I understand that the MPAA is an organization built arbitrariness, but this usually means something when it’s downgraded like this. Like, there was one little thing and they thought it was better to take out the “smoking pole” joke and make more money over going with the “smoking pole” joke. Or violence, or whatever whatever. Downwards means more than upwards is what I’m getting at.
[2]You could say Casablanca, though I won’t because I’m the one person in the world who didn’t like it. Blame the Mormon girl that broke my heart in High School.

[3] 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.

My Top Directors: Darren Aronofsky

In Kurt Vonnegut’s A Man without a Country (read this fucking book, by the way), he uses this chart to explain the subject matter of Kafka’s work:

The basic premise of this chart is as such: From the beginning to the end of the story, you have periods of good fortune and periods of ill fortune (as noted by the vertical column). However, as this graph accurately states, in a story by Franz Kafka, the protagonist starts out in a shit situation and it proceeds to get infinitely worse.

And the director who I think has carried this most brilliantly over into film with his first three movies is Darren Aronofsky. In Pi, you have a guy who’s crazy about the challenge of figuring out the patterns of our irrational lives, but his life is easily in the shitter and he’s tormented by genius. Eventually, he goes for gold: he drills a hole in his head as the only way he can see to alleviate his headaches.

In Requiem for a Dream, which actually may be his most hopeful of films because of the middle of the film that shows them actually being successful at the drug business and making plans to have a life in the future away from heroine. It centers around three drug addled friends who are so out of money and jobless that they attempt to sell heroine on the streets. Erstwhile, one the three’s mother, played brilliantly by Ellen Burstyn, finds out she’s going to be on her favorite television show. Because she wants to fit into her red dress again, she goes to the doctor who gives her diet pills. The irony of this is that the show is all about a diet program which you’d think that she would try. Instead, she descends into the uppers that make her feel young again but, in the end, have her diagnosed with a solid case of the crazies (which is a medical term).

And in his insofar Kafkan magnum opus, the Fountain, you have Hugh Jackman’s character who, even across one thousand years, never gets to be with his wife (played by Rachel Weisz) as she dies of cancer. In the present, Weisz has cancer and Jackman might have found a cure to aging which would have given her more time. In the past, the book that his wife is writing, he is a conquistador in Medieval Spain who goes into Central America at her request (she is the Queen) to find the tree of life that should stop the inquisition. If he succeeds, he would get to be her husband and King–her conquistador. But when he finds the tree, he gets greedy and drinks the sap and is immediately returned into the ground. And in the future, he is living with the tree, trying to reach the Mayan afterlife that she, in the present, talked so much about. He figures that, if he could just get across the universe, they could finally be together. But it doesn’t end up happening. The forever he wants is the forever he cannot have. It could be argued that he finally comes to terms with all of this at the end of the film when he realizes that he’s going to die, but, at the same time, it is not the forever he had wanted. He just wanted her. And, if you take the future as the final chapter of the book that Rachel Weisz’s character was writing, then it is not really and end, but the final chapter on his sorrow, and there will now only be loneliness and work in his future. So the future is nothing but a final chapter on a story that isn’t real. And what is real is the sorrow he is feeling.

All three of these movies end in a sort of devastation. Two of them ended with me weeping like a small child because of the sheer sadness of the film.

Now, in Vonnegut fashion, and to illustrate my point, I have made these charts via MS Paint:

(note: the three lines in the Fountain graphic correspond to the three storylines. The Top one being the future, the middle being the present, and the bottom one being the past.)

So there you have it. A shitty-ass graphical representation of Darren Kafkofsky.

And the best part is that he does it so deftly and so brilliantly that you can’t help but be in awe of these movies. His style and direction are both superb. The stories in each of these movies will blow you away.

And yet, it worries me that next year he will be releasing The Wrestler, a story about a retired wrestler preparing for one last bout with his archrival. If this movie ends well, it will destroy my Kafkan hypothesis but it won’t destroy me. If the movie itself sucks, it will destroy my soul.

I recommend that you go through youTube and watch some of the trailers or scenes from his movies. If you do, you’ll see some of the shattering jump cuts of Requiem and Pi that were used to both to disorient and to, in the former, get inside the head of a drug addict and, in the latter, to get inside the head of a paranoid schizophrenic. And you will see some of the most beautifully done shots across a thousand years that I have ever seen from the Fountain.

Easily, he is one of the best new talents in the industry today. And all I can hope for is more of the same from this young soon-to-be genius.

And you can bet your sweet black ass I’ll be there on opening day for the Wrestler. And then you’ll get to see the review.