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Darren Aronofsky is not what you could consider a mainstream director. His movies are visually stunning, intellectually and emotionally challenging, and generally hated by the audience. It takes dedication to make it all the way through an Aronofsky film, something few movie-goers are willing to do. His latest offering, The Fountain, isn't any different in that respect, but if you grant Mr. Aronofsky the luxury of your full attention and bring a little something of yourself to the watching, there's a good chance you'll be rewarded for your effort.
The premise behind the story is painfully simple: a man's struggle to save the woman he loves from dying. That premise is where the simplicity ends and exploration begins. His quest is fractured into three interwoven tales: three men's journeys representing one man's pursuit. Are you confused already? Get used to the sensation. Aronofsky doesn't slow down for the sake of those unable to keep up.
Tomas, a 16th century conquistador, is seeking the fabled Fountain of Youth to save the life of Spain's Queen Isabel who risks death at the hands of a merciless Inquisition. Tommy, a 21st century medical researcher, is desperate to find a cure for the brain tumor which threatens the life of his wife, Izzy. Tom, a 26th century explorer, is making a long and desperate journey, seeking to save what he believes to be the very essence of life itself. In the end all three are the same man, wrestling furiously to answer the same questions about life and love.
This kind of complicated, century spanning storytelling is a daunting task but Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz rise to the occasion with unexpected brilliance and a mesmerizing, refined simplicity. As the man and his beloved respectively, the two strike an amazing resonance with each and every scene. Jackman gives the performance of a lifetime, which is sort of a shame since so few people will likely be able to appreciate it. You've never seen him in a role like this before, and sadly, don't expect to ever see it again. Not because he's not capable, but because parts like this don't come along every day.
Supposing, for a moment, that you don't enjoy The Fountain's plot or style of storytelling, at the very least you can look forward to an overwhelming and awe-inspiring visual experience. Aronofsky tells his tale as much in pictures and visions as he does in words and emotions. Every frame is a piece of art and every moment poetry for the eyes. Especially stunning are elements that connect the three stories into one. Even if you argue that his script is muddled and in need of refinement, there's no denying that visually his film is flawless.
The Fountain is a masterful achievement, one that could very well be ahead of its time. This meshing of philosophical ideas with sci-fi themes works well so long as there are plenty of action sequences and a perfectly linear plotline to keep that popcorn-flick element alive. By contrast, this film stretches the mind and patience to levels that most audiences won't have the strength to withstand. I can only offer this solution: if at first something doesn't make sense or seems completely ridiculous, don't give up; think about it a bit more and you might be surprised by what you find.
For those who are willing and able to take it all in, this is a wonderful, moving, sci-fi experience that will leave you with things to consider and philosophy to debate for a long time to come. For the rest (and likely most), The Fountain is a boring film with really pretty pictures. I don't begrudge you that view. I only hope some future viewing will open your eyes to the incredible experience Arnofsky's film can offer.