Aronofsky's brilliant The Fountain (2006)

Darren Aronofsky

  • Born:  1969
  • Rank:  #83
  • Score:  525.40
  • Nominations:  Oscar, DGA, BAFTA, BFCA, Golden Globe
  • Feature Films:  5
  • Best:  The Fountain
  • Worst:  Requiem for a Dream

Feature Films  (ranked):

  1. The Fountain
  2. Black Swan
  3. The Wrestler
  4. Pi
  5. Requiem for a Dream

Top 10 Best Director Finishes  (Nighthawk Awards):

  • 2006  –  3rd  –  The Fountain
  • 2010  –  6th  –  Black Swan

Some directors come along and they make a debut feature film and you can instantly taste the talent – Kenneth Branagh with Henry V, Sam Mendes with American Beauty, Sofia Coppola with The Virgin Suicides.  Then, there are those other directors.  They make a film and you hear about it and you watch it and good god, you hate it.  But, in spite of hating the film, you can see the talent there – you can see what is possible in future films.  Far from Heaven made me want to wretch but it also made me ache for what Todd Haynes might make next.  The same with Requiem for a Dream.  I hated every minute of it, every over-praised, over-analyzed minute of it, but it made me go seek out Pi, Darren Aronofsky’s first film and made me long for another chance to maybe like what I would see.  There would be rumors galore and false starts – he was slated to direct Batman: Year One and what would eventually become The Fountain had starts and stops for years.  But it was worth waiting for when it came out – the brilliant echoes of his imagination, but it was not what audiences wanted from Hugh Jackman and it died badly at the box office and got mostly ignored at awards time (and completely ignored by the Oscars).  Then came The Wrestler, which won kudos for Mickey Rourke but was really just a stand-in until Black Swan.  This brilliant modern day version of Repulsion became the film that finally broke through with critics and awards groups and earned him enough kudos to launch him into the 2.0 version of the Top 100.

The Fountain  –  #3 film of 2006

There are films, that if you approach with a cautious and cynical eye, they will slip away from you.  You have to experience the emotion and pull of the film, the arc of the characters, the thrust of the story.  You must allow yourself to be swept away.  So, in the right moment, a film like A.I. can bring tears, a film like Elizabethtown will leave you with a smile on your face and a film like The Fountain can make you feel like 2001 has not been forgotten by the directors of today.

That is not to suggest that you do not take a critical eye to the films.  But what you allow yourself the first time you see a film can influence how you feel about it for the rest of your life.  And there would be those who would find The Fountain to be a meandering mess (which, in fact, is what I would say Requiem for a Dream is).  But I see a pattern in the course of the film.  The tagline is “WHAT IF YOU COULD LIVE FOREVER?”  But really the notion is WHAT IF LOVE COULD LIVE FOREVER?  That love could find a way to defeat everything – disease, war, famine, even death and time itself.  That is the center that links the three different time periods in the film – the 16th century explorer, the 21st century scientist and the futuristic space traveler.  Because he believes in love, he believes in his love and what it can do and he will find a way to keep it alive.

And then there is the evidence of the film itself.  It is a film filled with amazing effects (which, of course, received no notice from the Academy), with an incredible score, with dazzling cinematography, with art direction from the past and the future.  It is a film, most of all, that contains a directorial vision of what it is doing.  That is what had always been evident in Requiem for a Dream, even if I couldn’t tolerate the manner in which it played out.  Here, with balanced, solid acting (, with an incredible original script that dares to combine science-fiction with swashbuckling with a good, old fashioned tragic love story, there is something here.

The Fountain, may, in some ways, be the most divisive film of the last ten years.  Every person I know who has seen it has either absolutely loved it or absolutely hated it.  That seems to be borne out at metacritic where it has a 51, mostly because people either loved it, hated it, or somehow managed to love it and hate it at the same time.  Because it is a film that you have to sit back and let wash over you, not be trying to analyze from the first minute.  Like 2001, it takes you where it takes you and it is the journey, not the destination that matters here.  I felt the experience and it is a measure of how well this film measures up that in a year with The Departed, Children of Men and Pan’s Labyrinth, this, at one time, was my #1 film of the year.

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