Movies, much like books, would do well to have coherent plots that an audience is able to follow. While it is possible for a film to seem abstract on the surface, it is still necessary for an underlying story line to adequately tie all of the pieces together. Unfortunately, director Darren Aronofsky seems to have missed this day at film school, and "The Fountain" is the frustrating result.
On the technical level, "The Fountain" is truly an impressive and gorgeous film. As a moving image, it is beautiful to watch. Moving past the experience of watching and into the actual story development is where problems begin to arise. Although the movie is only 96 minutes in length, its pace is plodding.
The three interwoven plots of "The Fountain" take place in three different eras - the 16th century, the 21st century and the 26th century. The majority of the film occurs in the contemporary setting where Thomas Creo (Hugh Jackman), an animal surgeon and researcher, seeks a cure for the brain tumor that is causing his wife Izzi (Rachel Weisz) to slowly die.
Even though Izzi is dying, Creo would rather spend his nights working in the lab to find a cure for her, rather than actually spending time with her. During her numerous hours spent alone, Izzi is writing a book, naturally entitled "The Fountain," about a quest for the Fountain of Youth in the 1500s.
The narrative of her book is the 16th century plot line, which follows Tomas (Jackman), a conquistador, who is working to save Spain's Queen Isabella (Weisz) from the Catholic Inquisitor. Working off rumor and a piece of an old map, Tomas travels to Guatemala and the Mayans, where there is supposed to be a tree of life.
Lastly, there are flash-forwards to the 26th century where a man (Jackman) is floating in space and caring for a dying tree. While there, he is often visited by apparitions of his wife (Weisz).
The acting leaves hardly anything to complain about, although the actors are given precious little to work with.
Weisz is hardly given an actual role, instead serving as more of a vehicle for a feminine ideal.
Jackman's characters are only slightly more well-developed than Weisz's, giving him a little more room to display his talents.
It was an ambitious task that director Aronofsky decided to take on in making "The Fountain," it also seems like the project was more than he was able to handle. Although he tries to tie the three story lines together, not one of the three is well developed, leaving a very undeveloped mess.
The basic premise of three separate story lines working together to convey more abstract ideas has been done before, and with much more success.
Most notably is Hsiao-hsien Hou's 2005 masterpiece "Three Times," which used the same technique of profiling three separate story lines following two characters in each, played by the same two actors throughout. "Three Times" was successful because both its characters and story lines were fully developed, and it did not rely on its visual beauty to maintain audience interest.
The underlying premise of "The Fountain" certainly had promise, but its potential goes unrealized because of poor plot development throughout the film. In the end, "The Fountain" amounts to little more than eye candy, which is hardly worth the time or effort it takes to see it.