Combustible Celluloid
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With: Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn, Mark Margolis, Stephen McHattie, Fernando Hernandez, Cliff Curtis, Sean Patrick Thomas, Donna Murphy, Ethan Suplee, Richard McMillan, Lorne Brass
Written by: Darren Aronofsky, based on a story by Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some intense sequences of violent action, some sensuality and language
Running Time: 96
Date: 09/04/2006

The Fountain (2006)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Youth or Dare

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Some will consider Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain a disaster, while others will cherish it. It's an awesome work, dazzlingly inventive, constantly surprising, and told with a minimum of showbiz hoopla; it seems entirely outside the current state of things. But it may not transcend the world of cult sci-fi as with other slightly out-of-step oddities like John Boorman's Zardoz (1974), David Lynch's Dune (1984) and Tarkovsky's Stalker (1979).

From the trailer, one might expect a story about two lovers who discover the Fountain of Youth. But it's a good deal more complicated than that. Aronofsky interweaves three sections together: Tomas (Hugh Jackman) is a doctor studying ways to reduce tumors in chimpanzees, while his beloved Isabel (or "Izzy") (Rachel Weisz) slowly succumbs to sickness. She's writing a story about a man who finds the fountain of youth, and we see this story, with Jackman as the hero and Weisz as a princess. In the third portion, Tomas is bald and living in a bubble floating in outer space. Izzy has apparently become a tree. He meditates and hopes for a way to keep her alive.

Aronofsky ingeniously unfolds these three sections as each reveals its secrets; each story is connected in subtle, visually thematic ways. And Jackman and Weisz give their best work to ensure an emotional thread running throughout. (Ellen Burstyn, who earned a much-deserved Oscar nomination for her performance in Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream, returns here in a lovely, small performance.) But The Fountain has a singular seriousness, a sense of purpose that's both appealing and off-putting. It charges ahead without the slightest concern for the audience. There's the nagging sense that Aronofsky has no patience for those that can't keep up. Normally I like this kind of thinking -- pandering to the lowest common denominator can only result in stupid movies -- but this time it adds a strange weight to the proceedings, an undefined thickness. It's hard to get lost in this film.

However, even the toughest of films have loosened up under a second or third viewing, and perhaps that's what Aronofsky intends. So I'll leave off for now in the hopes that clearer answers are on the horizon. The Fountain

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