Follow TIME Movies critics can't agree on much, but there's one assumption most of them hold deeply without ever discussing it. It's that a film that says life is crap is automatically deeper, better, richer, truer than one that says life can be beautiful. That's a from the prevailing notion in classic Hollywood, where optimism was the cardinal belief, at least on-screen.
It was in the front office that the knives came out. Most movies, whatever their genre, were romances; they aimed for tears and ended with a kiss. But to serious critics then, and to the mass audience now, sentiment is suspect. To be soft-hearted is to be soft-headed. So critics will see a horror film with extreme violence, or less frequently an erotic film with extreme sex, and accept these as genre conventions, whether or not they're grossed out or aroused.
But a movie that tries to make them feel is somehow pandering to their basest or noblest emotions and, as they see it, deserves a spanking from any smart reviewer. These days, nothing is as easy to deride as dead-serious romance. Darren Aronofsky must have known the risk he was taking as he prepared the ambitious movie romance called The Fountain. His previous films, the no-budget Pi and the low-budget Requiem for a Dream , both quirky art-house hits, had been on the somber side, to put it mildly.
Instantly, anybody could see that Aronofsky was one of the few American filmmakers who saw the cinema past as a jumping-off point, not a toy store to plunder. His films were full of promise; and more, they delivered on their promises.
Aronofsky then went the route of so many phenoms: Projects collapsed; time marched on. Throughout, Aronofsky pursued his own epic, The Fountain, about a man who will do anything to save his critically ailing wife. The original financiers dropped The Fountain when those two bowed out. They later reunited to make Babel, in which they played virtually the same roles. The whole trip, with all its frustrating detours, took six years.
You'd have to have seen the films the Festival chose to understand what an insult that was to Aronofsky. The picture finally received its world premiere in September at the Venice Film Festival. The history of movie romance is the story of beautiful people with terrible problems. That's The Fountain in a nutshell. Jackman is medical scientist Tom Creo, who's conducting experiments to "stop aging.
Another is the quest of a 16th-century conquistador, Tomas, to locate the Mayan Tree of Life for his Queen Isabella; this is also the plot of Izzy's latest novel. Finally, Tom is a space traveler in the 26th century, finding the Tree, and his destiny, in a giant translucent bubble. At Venice, the bubble popped, and neither star could save The Fountain from a death sentence of boos at both the critics' and the public screenings.
Weisz, who earlier this year received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for The Constant Gardener and became a mother, seemed equally maternal in defense of her new movie. Weisz and Aronofsky live together, and he is the father of her child. The film had an equally risible reaction at early screenings in the U. It opens in theaters today. Or as they used to say about movie bombs: As I suggested, these critical catcalls reflect less the quality of the film and more the prevailing fashions of the art-house intelligentsia: But on its own terms, this is a daring and impressive achievement.
Here, love is the driving force I will do anything to keep you alive , making The Fountain the rare quest film with a hero as selfless as he is besotted. The Fountain, which with its opening chords announces its life-or-death theme and life beyond death , has no time or inclination for comedy.
Armand trying to breathe life into the dying Marguerite Gautier, or Romeo trying to shake the poison out of Juliet, or Isolde going operatic over Tristan. The Fountain is essentially a classic deathbed scene, at feature length and sustained intensity. Aronofsky brings every bit as much cinematic audacity to this film as he did to his first two, building elaborate visual motifs: Tree rings as a Mayan tattoo and as cloud formations; foliage that surrounds Tomas in the 16th century and grows through him in the 26th.
Those Old Hollywood romantic tropes still call to me. And I was touched that Aronofsky, who could have kept making spiky little art films and that would have been fine , took a chance on himself and the movie audience with a love story that is likely to alienate his old fans and confuse the mall rats. I regret only that he cut the film to the bone; 96 mins. In most cases, what was removed would not have been missed.
I like and respect the short version of The Fountain.