The Fountain is a 2006 film by director and screenwriter Darren Aronofsky. Back in 2002, Aronofsky was about to begin filming when Brad Pitt, the film’s star, pulled out over creative differences. The sets were auctioned and the project shelved. Then, in 2005, Hugh Jackman came on board – bringing his box-office capital with him. The Fountain was released in November, 2006.
Watching the film yesterday afternoon prompted some thoughts about metaphor. I thought I’d write them down. This isn’t a review as such, but it does contain some spoilers.
This film is notable in several respects. While most Hollywood movies drip with Computer Generated Imagery (CGI), The Fountain benefits from exquisite macro-photography. (This involves filming chemical reactions with high-speed, high-magnification cameras to create organic-looking starscapes and vistas.) The decision to forego CGI
Another point of interest is the splintered narrative, which one might call ‘nonlinear’. But not only is this narrative broken apart, it deliberately fails to make sense. That is, questions are introduced and not answered; one is never sure that the different narrative threads are designed to complement or clash. Do they happen in the same universe? Is one the dream of another, written down?
We have the story of a Spanish conquistador searching for the so-called tree of life with which to save Spain from ruin. We have the brilliant doctor racing to find a cure for his wife’s brain tumour – a cure that somehow involves the bark of a single, South American tree. And we have the Last Man: a guardian astronaut taking the same tree to an exploded, dying star that once inspired the Mayans as their underworld. Three times; three people. Why are they played by the same man?
Aronofsky appears to have taken his metaphors in all directions. Where they clash with the plot, the metaphor wins. The conquistador, the doctor and the astronaut: they should not be the same man. But using the same actor expresses unity. Unity is symbolised by the tree itself (which is one of two) and by the loss of the doctor’s wedding ring, and even the unending Kubrick
Once again, it seems that the story is metaphor. Strengthen the metaphor, strengthen the story. The plot can go to hell. Sometimes it should, just to see to what happens.