Hi, I'm Sam, I love movies. My main interest is science fiction and zombie movies. Pessimistic and survival films I also enjoy a lot.
“Therefore, the Lord God banished Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden and placed a flaming sword to protect the tree of life.” - Genesis 3:24
With this biblical decree, The Fountain establishes mortality as the main fuel of this story. Adam and Eve's banishment from paradise has made them vulnerable to disease and death.
Director Darren Aronofsky interprets The Fall of man as the moment in which death defined us and made us special.
Or, in other less cynical words, humanity became defined as an existential loop of life and death and not an eternal, one-directional, straight line.
At least that's what the character of Izzi (Rachel Weisz) wants her love Thomas Creo (Hugh Jackman) to understand. Because, almost immediately, The Fountain establishes another line of wisdom that hints at a more bright destiny.
Death is the road to awe.
The Fountain is the journey of a man from darkness to enlightenment, through his conception of death, framed in a story of consummate love. And we mean consummate love, according to Robert Sternberg's triangular theory of love: the complete form of love. The ideal relationship that everyone wants but just a few reaches. The one that has the three other vertices in amazing shape: Intimacy, passion, and commitment.
Following the triads, Aronofsky presents this story in three planes.
Yes, existential planes. The Fountain is NOT a time travel movie. It's about embracing mortality using all the resources that humanity gives us.
One of those resources is fiction. And that's represented in the form of the fictional book "The Fountain" that Izzi is writing, where she imagines herself as Queen Isabella I of Castille, seeking to be saved from the inquisition by a "conquistador" version of her husband, Tomás Verde. Izzi started that book to channel her very real desire to be saved from brain cancer by her husband (Thomas Creo), a scientist who discovers a tree in South America with the possibility of doing just that.
Fiction is a fundamental part of our lives. It channels sensations, handles semiotics, symbology and expands our understanding of the world.
With the fiction and reality established, The Fountain adds a more complex existential third plane. One that's almost impossible to define, because that’s its nature: mysterious, engaging, breathtaking. Still pretty much unknown.
On that plane, we are in what appears to be the communion between the soul and the mind of Thomas. Interpreted as a traveler who looks like a Buddhist monk, aboard an intergalactic bubble with a dying tree in the center, this is the visual place where we see Thomas's emotional process, one that will be modified by the previously established reality and fiction. One in which Izzi symbolizes life, in the form of that dying tree.
That's why in a detailed shot--that is repeated several times during the movie--Tom approaches his wife's neck (reality) and the tree trunk (emotion), and they are visually identical. Hair raising.
In that plane, which we will call reductively "emotional", there's a visual trick that, probably with premeditation, contributes a lot to the philosophy behind the film. Aronofsky didn't want to use CGI to recreate space, so he ended up using 3-D macro photographs of microorganisms (bacteria, chemicals). In other words, the pattern of creation between the macro and micro worlds, in our universe.
Peter Parks, the responsible for achieving the visual effect, explained it best: "When these images are projected on a big screen, you feel like you're looking at infinity. That's because the same forces at work in the water—gravitational effects, settlement, refractive indices—are happening in outer space.”
Already with the three planes established, Tom's journey to enlightenment is set. Izzi, having already made peace with her situation, no longer wants to be "saved" by her husband. What she wants is for Thomas to live in the present with her and, above all, to conceive death in the same way as her: as the path to the awe that generates more life.
Thomas, of course, begins his journey mired in his stubbornness: “Death is a disease, it's like any other. And there's a cure. And I will find it.”
Izzi wants her husband to find the peace she has already achieved. She tries to introduce the concept of rebirth according to the Mayans and the similar symbolism found in the golden nebula of Xibalba, but Thomas remains in the shadow of his humanity's limited ego. He's still in full "white male savior" mode (underlined by his fictional alter-ego, a colonizer nonetheless).
Izzi then finds a way to manipulate him (in the best possible sense of the word), so that Thomas will be in the same tune as her: she asks him to write the last chapter of the book.
Thomas, of course, resists to literally "close the book" on Izzi. In fiction, reality, and emotionality, the closure is still too definitive and final for him, therefore devastating and unbearable.
But then, when confronted with the hard reality of the death of his wife, Thomas starts to cope. He meets the stages of mourning and, in honor of the love he felt for her, decides to give a chance to her "cyclical" vision of death.
So, he decides to continue his research (which, in a cruel turn of events, hit a major development the moment she died), but, more importantly, he decides to finish the book.
But then, something beautiful happens when Thomas finally accepts mortality as an essential part of what makes us human and finally decides to write the last chapter of the love story of his life: The whole narrative thread makes sense somehow, transcending times, planes, spaces and, yes, even logic.
Fiction, emotionality, and reality are perfectly entwined. And the whole journey, somehow, finds coherence to something that we never fully understand, but whose mystery is essential for its definition. And it's all in the name of love.
That's a statement that, although it could be considered by the most cynical as cheesy, it has great power: Death makes us special, but only because love makes us transcend finality.
"Creo", in Spanish, means "I believe." When Thomas Creo finally decides to complete the story, the meaning of his last name (in the language of the characters in Izzi's book) comes to light. It's almost as if his identity became a master key that allowed him to transport himself between planes of realities (the fiction of the book, the unconscious of the "emotional" plane) to tie all the ends and complete his belief about the theory that death generates life.
Again, the cynical will only see a coping mechanism. But Thomas appears to be joyful and fulfilled. So, it doesn't matter.
Because, really, there's no other way. To actually believe that and achieve peace, we must give to an act of faith.
That's how the mystery of life works. And we're not wrong nor naive because of it. All the contrary. We're taking the big leap to the unknown.
Title: The Fountain
Release Year: 2006
Director(s): Darren Aronofsky
Actors: Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Sean Patrick Thomas a.o.
© 2021 Sam Shepards