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Eternity and Immortality Explored in The Fountain

  • Annabelle Robertson Entertainment Critic
  • 2007 5 May
  • COMMENTS
Eternity and Immortality Explored in <i>The Fountain</i>

DVD Release Date: May 15, 2007
Theatrical Release Date: November 22, 2006
Rating: PG-13 for some intense sequences of violent action, some sensuality and language
Genre:  Drama
Run Time: 92 min.
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Actors:  Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn, Mark Margolis, Cliff Curtis, Sean Patrick Thomas, Donna Murphy, Ethan Supplee

What does it mean to have eternity set in our hearts?  Is immortality possible?  These are the questions explored by writer/director Darren Aronofsky in his latest film, an ambitious, artistic, science-fiction production that will leave many shaking their heads, but others pondering these very important issues.

Tomas (Hugh Jackman) is a 26th century astronaut, floating ephemerally above the cosmos in a transparent bubble toward a dying nebula.  The bubble contains a dark and mysterious tree that fascinates Tomas.  But as he attempts to chip at the tree’s bark, he suddenly finds himself in the 21st century, as Dr. Tommy Creo.  Tommy, who has been searching for a cure for cancer, conducts experiments on monkeys from his well-staffed research lab, which is directed by Dr. Lillian Guzetti (Ellen Burstyn).  Tommy works tirelessly, often ordering his colleagues to perform surgeries late into the night.

The reason for Creo’s striving becomes clear when we meet his beautiful wife.   Izzy (Rachel Weisz, Aronofsky’s real-life fiancée) is dying of cancer, and her husband is racing against the clock to save her.  From the beginning, we sense that Tommy’s efforts will be in vain.  Left without her husband for hours at a time, Izzy therefore channels her energy into a book, writing longhand a story about Queen Isabel, the faithful conquistador who loves her and the Spanish Inquisition raging around them.  The writing gives the beautiful Izzy peace about her impending death. 

When Tommy finally sits long enough to read her novel, it transports the film into yet another time period.  This time, Tommy becomes a Spanish conquistador, searching for the Tree of Life, as recounted in the book of Genesis.  Using an ancient Mayan myth that mirrors portions of the biblical story, and accompanied by a Franciscan monk, he believes that if he can find this tree, he will save not just Isabel but everyone in Spain from the brutal terrors of the Inquisitors.  They will live forever.

Back in the present—with occasional jaunts to the cosmos, to check on Tomas—Izzy beckons her husband.  She longs to take a walk in the snow, or gaze at the stars from their snow-covered rooftop.  She wants to talk about the Mayan legend of rebirth, which talks of a “First Father” who sacrificed his life for others.  The myth gives her great hope, because it promises that “life comes from death.”  But Tommy can’t listen; he’s in too much denial.

We sympathize with Izzy’s husband, as he frantically shakes off reality and rushes back to his lab, but we also long to shake Tommy and implore him to seize every precious moment with his wife.  But like the conquistador, Tommy must save his beloved queen—even if it means leaving her alone during her dying moments.  Fortunately, he is on the cusp of a breakthrough.  But will it be in time?

Aronofsky enjoys making films that explore the deeper meaning of life, along with the link between science and faith.  In Pi, his main character hears God through mathematical equations.  In Requiem for a Dream, he explores the soul-numbering pursuit of addiction, in various manifestations.  Here, the director focuses on the concept of eternal life.  He avoids any mention of God or sin, implying that humans are basically good, without any need for redemption.  As a result, his characters must, rather tragically, fend for themselves as they search for answers in the past, present and future.  Fortunately, they do so with excellent performances all around, particularly by Jackman and the luminous Weisz.

In the end, Izzy and Tommy appear to find one another in the afterlife, when the 26th century Tomas floats up to the heavens.  And yet, Aronofsky’s deeper message seems to be that the pursuit of immortal life is a futile one—especially when it causes us to miss what this life has to offer.  Although confusing at first, this is consistent with the syncretistic belief that everything is one in the universe.  We must live out our days the best way that we can, the director seems to be saying, because life is but an eternal cycle of death and rebirth.  Images of the lotus position, popular in Buddhism, underscore this teaching.

Although hardly a Christian message, Aronofsky is nevertheless communicating something important about a culture that encourages us to avoid death, no matter what the cost.  We can’t ever “cure” it, as Tommy insists he will, and few will accept the Mayan chief’s shout that “Death is the beginning of awe.”  But, as Izzy demonstrates, death is not always evil, nor must it necessarily be feared.  At times, it might even be embraced—particularly when acceptance will allow loved ones to find closure and reconciliation. 

Having experienced this same spiritual quest, Christians understand that peace about life and death, as well as eternal life, can be found by surrendering our pride and embracing the forgiveness that Jesus so freely offers.  Fortunately, no matter where we are on that journey, we can all cling to his promise that “those who seek me with all their hearts shall surely find me.”

AUDIENCE:  Adults and mature adolescents

DVD EXTRAS:

  • Theatrical Trailer
  • “Inside the Fountain: Death and Rebirth” – featurette

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol: None.
  • Language/Profanity: A few profanities and obscenities, two of which are strong.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity: Characters kiss then frolic in a bathtub and begin to make love (but no nudity); married couple sleep and snuggle in bed.
  • Violence: Various gruesome, even bloody depictions of war-like killing of soldiers, priests, natives and conquistadors, including stabbing and throat-slitting;  Grand Inquisitor flagellates himself, drawing blood, then expounds upon the heretical belief that the route to holiness requires bodily death, torture and/or mutilation; several people are hanged upside down and dropped to their death; man gives himself a tattoo with an ink pen; various depictions of anger/despair including throwing of objects (no one is injured).