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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

 

ModFab On...The Fountain

THE FOUNTAIN
Starring Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Donna Murphy, and Ellen Burstyn
Written by Darren Aronofsky
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Rated: PG-13 for some intense sequences of violent action, some sensuality and language

When all of most trusted moviewatching friends are losing their minds over one single film, you better buy a ticket, pronto. Which is exactly what I did today after work, to see The Fountain, Darren Aronofsky's dreamy meditation on love and death. And yes, it's as good as they say...maybe not the best film of 2006, but as Nick says, "it goes a long way toward redeeming the year."

I'm happy to report that Aronofsky's labor of love is as gorgeous and emotionally cathartic as you've heard; it is also as overwrought, trite and overbaked. Whether you can accept the naivete of the premise is up to you; this is a film of images and thought, not plot. What is astonishing, however, is its singleminded certainty of its own virtue -- you have to look back to Malick or Kubrick to find an American filmmaker offering up such a challenging vision to a mainstream audience without apology. Well, maybe you don't have to go back quite that far...I was thrilled by the film's similarities to Steven Soderbergh's 2002 remake of Solaris; that film, of course, utilized the language of science fiction instead of The Fountain's fantasy and myth, but the sense of eternal, immobilizing heartbreak is explored with equal, exquisite detail.

Another surprise: Hugh Jackman proves himself to be an actor of serious dramatic ability. The meandering screenplay requires him to juggle three interwoven characters and storylines, but he never loses the sense of isolating pain and searing drive. The real stars, however, may be Matthew Libatique, the iconoclastic cinematographer, and the composer Clint Mansell. The world of The Fountain is breathtaking, and the atmospheric impact of Libatique and Mansell's elegiac, elegant work cannot be understated.

It's easy to see why the film is a love-it-or-hate-it enterprise, with as many detractors as adherents. It's a ruthlessly bold experiment, challenging established notions of what an audience will accept in plot, structure, narrative, and character. It may be more than many viewers may want to tolerate, especially those without a sense of whimsy or romance. (What was the last grand, lavishly styled Hollywood concoction? Moulin Rouge, which met a similar box-office ambivalence before finding its place in the pantheon due to DVD and cable.) What is unquestionable now, however, is that Darren Aronofsky -- after Pi, Requiem for a Dream, and now The Fountain -- is one of America's most important filmmakers, and deserves to be treated as such in the future.

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