Aronofsky’s offering takes immortality search across centuries

BY CATE MARQUIS, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Darren Aronofsky’s first film Pi was a low-budget hit, a mathematical mystery thriller that pitted a Hasidic Kabbalistic sect against a Wall Street firm seeking to predict the stock market in a struggle to obtain a mathematical formula of the universe developed by a reclusive mathematician named Max Cohen secretly working with a massive computer in his apartment.

The writer/director’s latest film The Fountain is equally imaginative but a different kind of story. The Fountain is a visual banquet but the story is a puzzle box tale about love and the quest for eternal life that spans three time periods. The title is a reference to the mythical Fountain of Youth, and a 16th century conquistador on that quest is one of the storylines. The conquistador Tomas (Hugh Jackman) is dispatched by Queen Isabel (Rachel Weisz) on this quest, one of three story lines that run concurrently in the film. However, it is not eternal youth but the theme of eternal life that ties the three stories together. The other storylines concern a modern day medical researcher and his wife Izzi, and a 26th century astronaut/Buddhist monk, on a journey to a unique star cluster. How the stories are connected is best revealed in the film.

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Hugh Jackman plays the lead character Tomas/Tom in all three stories, along with Hebrew hottie Rachel Weisz as Isabel/Izzi as his love interest. Actually, the British-Jewish Rachel Weisz is director Aronofsky’s fianc ée. Aronofsky’s father, a retired teacher who taught chemistry in the Yeshiva of Flatbush Elementary School in Brooklyn, N.Y., also appears in the film, as a lab tech.

Since the film is both a mystery and a romance, we will not spoil the story by revealing too much of the plot. While the central story is a romance, it touches on themes of spirituality, life and death. The current day story is the pivot point for the whole tale. In the modern day story, Ellen Burstyn delivers a nice turn as Dr. Lillian Guzetti, both the head of the lab where Tom Creo (Jackman) works as a top researcher and the Creos’ friend. Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz work well as the star-crossed lovers through time, although Jackman has the heavier acting load, especially in the last portion of the story, for which he shaved his head for the role. Although the writer/director originally cast Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett in the roles and re-cast both roles after Pitt left over creative differences, it is hard to imagine better performances for the two leads. Aronofsky also cast favorites Sean Gullette and Mark Margolis, who appeared in his debut film Pi, in supporting roles.

The acting is fine but the real appeal is the film’s lush visual aspect. The Fountain is such a delight for the eyes that it hardly matters if some audience members might find the storyline a bit hard to follow. The lush, gorgeous imagery is entertaining and breathtaking in itself, a signature of Aronofsky’s work in both the low-budget Pi and his first big-budget film Requiem For A Dream, but taken to a new level for this one. In the sixteenth century story, we get glowing, bejeweled costumes in the Spanish court paired with the lush dark jungles and pyramids of the Mayans’ world. The visuals for the twenty-sixth century voyage through space are the most gracefully surreal and symbolic but even the visual images from the contemporary portion of the story are hauntingly beautiful. One of the beautiful, surreal images that fill the film is a golden star cluster that is a Maya symbol of life and death, which Aronofsky created by using microphotography of chemical reactions in a petrie dish. One can easily feel transported into the film’s lovely, glittering, fantasy world. The film’s mystical tone is supported by a score performed by the Kronos Quartet and the Scottish rock band Mogwai.

If you like visual filmmaking and are willing to just relax and enjoy the ride, The Fountain is a cinematic trip worth taking.