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Fountain, The

Entry updated 22 May 2020. Tagged: Film.

Film (2006). Warner Brothers Pictures and Regency Enterprises present a Protozoa Pictures/New Regency/Muse Entertainment Enterprises production. Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Written by Aronofsky & Ari Handel. Cast includes Ellen Burstyn, Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz. 96 minutes. Colour.

A conquistador seeks the tree of life to save his queen from death, in an unfinished novel by the dying wife of a present-day oncologist racing to find a cure for her brain tumour who stumbles instead on an Immortality serum. Centuries later he reappears as an interstellar voyager flying into the heart of the Orion Nebula to resuscitate her spirit from a dying soul-tree. The three stories, with Jackman and Weisz playing multiple parts, intertwine diegetically and increasingly bleed into one another, until all three quests are climactically thwarted on their original terms but produce unexpected new life through the acceptance of death.

Co-devised with neuroscientist Handel, Aronofsky's former Harvard roommate, this idiosyncratic mash of magnificence and flatulence wound up recapitulating its hero's own multiple incarnations. An early version of the film with twice the budget collapsed shortly before filming when original lead Brad Pitt (set to star against Cate Blanchett) dropped out to make Troy (2004); Aronofsky then repurposed the screenplay as The Fountain (graph 2005) with art by Kent Williams, but subsequently revived the film in a stripped-down version with a new cast, omitting the costly action sequences from the 2003 version to focus on the central love story. The result was even less commercial, and did limited business; critical response polarized between awe and derision, appositely reflecting the film's investiture of heavily thematized but essentially banal ideas in grandiose and at times, especially in the sequences of solo interstellar flight, stunningly beautiful terms. Thanks to Handel's involvement the present-day sequences approach Hard SF in their technical detail, to a degree very rare in Hollywood (see Contagion [2011]); their juxtaposition with soaring images of cosmic Transcendence attempts a union of science and emotion not seen since 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), even if the triune love story proves inadequate to sustain the weight of conceptual ambition. [NL]


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