The Fountain is an odyssey about one man’s thousand-year struggle to save the woman he loves. His epic journey begins in 16th century Spain, where conquistador Tomas Creo (Hugh Jackman) commences his search for the Tree of Life, the legendary entity believed to grant eternal life to those who drink of its sap. As modern-day scientist Tommy Creo, he desperately struggles to find a cure for the cancer that is killing his beloved wife Isabel (Rachel Weisz). Traveling through deep space as a 26th century astronaut, Tom begins to grasp the mysteries of life that have consumed him for more than a century.
It’s funny, I did hear about this movie in passing when it first came out back in 2006 but I only got around to watching it at the end of last year after listening to the soundtrack first (more about that later in this review). Spoilers ahead!
I guess I should start by getting the major thing out of the way: the movie is not for everyone. I know this sounds weird and perhaps rather pretentious but I can see why the reviews to this movie have been mixed. Because there are three distinct storylines going on that all converge at different points, the storytelling is not linear. Additionally, because there’s a number of different themes going on (death, life, love, existence, free will), it adds to the confusion. It’s a movie where, in a way, not a lot is really going on. The choices that the characters make and the struggles that they’re personally facing, especially the characters that Hugh Jackman places, are rather internal. I think you could interpret this movie as a charcter-driven movie moreso than an actual plot-driven one (although the plot is still important in conveying some of the themes).
Speaking of interpretations, the outcome of the story itself is one of those “up to your interpretations”. What exactly did Tom realise at the end when he decided to “finish it”? What was he finishing? Did he in fact live forever? What about conquistador Tomas’s end? What did that signify? (There’s more questions than involved but that’s all I can remember at the moment; I did watch this movie a few months ago ^_~) There’s a lot of symbolism going on in this movie that are also referred to throughout the different storylines, connecting them all together. Some have interpretted the sort of East and West understanding of life and death. Whatever conclusions you draw, I think the end of the movie was open enough for you to make your claims.
For me personally, as interesting as the life-and-death metaphysics was, the core of this movie was really love: the love that Tomas/Tommy/Tom has for Isabel/Izzy. It’s the one thing that kept Tomas going in search of the Tree of Life, the one thing that kept Tommy going in search for a cure to cancer, the one thing that kept Tom going towards Xibalba. Their dynamic in each period is wonderful and really represents a union of odds, particularly in the case of Tommy and Izzy. Tommy is a skeptic, grounded in reason whereas Izzy is a believer, not afraid really of what happens after death. The issue of death weaves in and out but it’s their love really that’s at the root of it all and at the end of the day, it’s their love that survives even beyond.
Cinematography-wise, it was stunning. I like the choice of not relying heavily on CGI and using microscopic footage to give the ethereal look to the futuristic storyline. It also adds an almost-mythic quality to the that storyline. I also love the way certain scenes were framed; the scene were Tomas goes to see Queen Isabel was especially stunning. The close-ups also draws the viewer to the character before them and focuses on their emotions rather than on the environment around them, which was a great choice.
The cast was great and the chemistry between Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz was just amazing (which, it has to be since a key theme to the movie was love). Rachel Weisz is always amazing, especially when she switches from the sweet and imaginative Izzy to the regal and strong Queen Isabel. But I think this movie really showcases Hugh Jackman’s talents and range in drama as we’re seeing the entire journey in all three storylines from his characters’ perspectives. His determination to save his loved one, the frustration and hostility he has towards death, his rigid skepticism, his passion for his love…I can’t believe he wasn’t nominated for his role in this movie, he was just powerful and intense. With a movie that touches on a lot of themes, you need that dynamism and he truly delivered.
The soundtrack, as I mentioned at the beginning, was my first association to this movie. I had heard wonderful things about this soundtrack so I checked it out and just fell in love with it. It reflects the movie so much: the love and longing (“Stay with Me”, “Together we will Live Forever”) to the action (“Holy Dread!”) and the climax of the film (“Death is the Road to Awe”). If the movie was visually stunning and thought-provoking, the music is equally stunning and emotionally-evoking.
I should also note that there was a comic book adaptation made of the movie (shortly after it was released, I believe). It’s actually worth picking up because aside from the gorgeous art (it’s almost not a comic book in that sense, each page is just art), it just flesh out some of the details of the movie that were not clear (such as the tree that Tom was traveling with in the 26th century). It also provides some of the original storyline that Arfonsky conceived for the movie. I have to say, I prefer the course of the movie, particularly for the Tomas/Queen Isabel relationship, but the comic book is equally good and equally thought-provoking.
Overall, the movie was visually and audibly stunning and the acting was perfect. The more philosophical and thematic parts perhaps is a mixed bag since it either attracted or retracted viewers from the story but in the end, the core themes were thought-provoking. If you tone that part of the movie down and focus on merely the story and dynamic between Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz’s characters, it really is a beautiful story.