Darren Aronofsky. Perhaps you’ve heard of him. He created some very emotional films in his career, among them last year’s Oscar-winning Black Swan with Natalie Portman. After watching that film, I had a nostalgia-ridden flashback to earlier years, watching Requiem For a Dream and feeling terribly depressed by it. For years, I’ve heard that Aronofsky’s 2006 sci-fi/romance The Fountain was a so-so film, and put it on the back-burner for that reason. Well, I finally got around to watching it.
The Fountain follows three stories, each containing a protagonist played by Hugh Jackman (famous in my circles as Wolverine of X-Men fame). In the framing story, Jackman is a neuroscientist named Tommy, desperately seeking to cure a malignant tumor growing in his wife’s brain. This story intermingles with the stories of a Spanish conquistador named Tomas, searching for the Fountain of Youth, and an astronaut named Tom, slowing moving through space toward a golden nebula.
Much of the film revolves around the protagonists attempting to “cure” death. The underlying theme of The Fountain seems to be “coming to terms with death.” In each scenario, Jackman interacts with a version of Rachel Weisz. She portrays the love interest for each protagonist and represents the theme of death in different stages. Weisz does a magnificent job of steeling herself through the five stages of grief, although Jackman’s characters do not fare as well.
It’s a meditation on death that focuses more on those left behind than those who have passed on. Whether it is accepting that someone cannot be saved, or choosing not to fall into depression, or moving on and refusing to dwell on the past, the protagonists each come to terms one way or another, for better or worse. What ties the storylines together is each protagonist’s fierce love for Weisz, and his journey to fight for a cure that seems to always be just out of reach.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about the paths we choose in life, as I’ve chosen to leave Japan and return to America. I don’t want this to sound depressing, but I really cannot articulate it any better: we all have the freedom to make decisions and mold our lives, but there is only ever one ending, and that is when we die. We all end up in the same place eventually, no matter what, and The Fountain’s rumination on this concept has given me plenty of food for thought. I think each and every one of us will have to come to terms with our own mortality some day, and if cinema can help guide me along, I’m happy to accept a helping hand.