Friday, January 29, 2010

THE FOUNTAIN

This is going to be a weird and long post, but I am pretty sure Darren Aronofsky's 'The Fountain' might be my new favorite movie... ever. I only just 'discovered' 'The Fountain' even though it came out in 2006, but it blows my mind enough that I would like to blog about it.

I probably missed it when it was released because I had gotten into a wicked car accident on Highway 29 in Napa that week. That and when I lived in Napa I did not have a TV and would not have been exposed to too many movie trailers. Actually, as a matter of fact, I have never owned a TV... and now that I think about it, I have not lived in a house with a TV since the Presidio back in 2005. Think of all the movie trailers (and amazing movies!) I may have missed in the past five years!

That said, when we were in Southeast Asia, John and I saw some pretty second rate stuff on Thai HBO. Mediocre American movies completely unfamiliar to me were shown constantly. Most of them were bad, but somewhere, and I can't remember where, we caught a glimpse of 'The Fountain.' At the time I thought, 'What the heck is this weirdo movie starring Hugh Jackman?' but I left it at that.

Then back in November, I realized you can watch full movies on youtube. Yes, they are broken into ten or more ten-minute pieces and true, the quality is sometimes crap, but I am a poor grad student and they are free. Over the past three months I have watched many movies on youtube:

Golden Compass
Little Ashes
Speak
In the Land of Women
Twelfth Night, Or What You Will
A Room with a View
Deliverance
Rosemary's Baby
The African Queen
Dial 'M' for Murder
The Terminator I, II
Perfume, The Story of a Murder (in Italian)
Mean Girls
Sweeney Todd (chipmunked)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Star Wars Episodes I-VI
Taxi Driver
Gosford Park
The Fountain (twice)

Somewhere back in November, I was going through my travel journal to recall all the movies and books I told myself to remember to watch when I got home, which is how I remembered that weird Hugh Jackman movie and looked up his IMDb profile to see what it could have been, which is how I found 'The Fountain.' I watched it, and thought it and its score were amazing. Then I just recently saw 'Moon' and my mind was blown again by the movie and the score. As you may know, Clint Mansell wrote the music for both and I will now be paying attention to his and Darren Aronofsky's other movies, like Black Swan.

Last night I came home from talking about 'Moon' over dinner at MissionStreetFood and via one degree of Clint Mansell separation, I was sucked into watching 'The Fountain' again, remembering how amazing the music is, and drunk-purchasing the score from iTunes.

As a sidenote, I am sure other people have noted this long before now, but iTunes makes it dangerously easy to purchase things online, much more so than amazon or ticketmaster or some other website where you have time to reconsider as you type in your information. With iTunes you are only two clicks away from impulse buys. I am kind of glad my impulse won last night. The score to 'The Fountain' is incrediblly intense longing sadness!


The film follows three intertwined storylines that zoom and pan across space and time. From 1500 AD to futurotimelessness (2500 AD) it examines life, love and death micro- and macroscopically, a search for immortality, when the truth of life is mortality. It begins with a bald Jackman, a man tending his beloved, but sick, tree. They are floating in a bubble toward the nebula Xibalba where the sick tree will be healed if they make it there in time. The treekeeper is haunted by a vision of a woman in white.

TK: Please. Leave me alone. I know how it ends.... Ok, I trust you. Take me. Show me.

The primary thread follows Tommy, a brain tumor researcher and Izzy, his wife who has a brain tumor. He is torn between spending time with her because their time together is limited and working to find a cure that may prolong her life. For example, she asks him to come out into the first snow with her, but he declines on account of work. In treating a primate research subject, he subsequently has a breakthrough using a compound from a tree in Central America.

Through the microscope we see an image of a thread-like cellular structure that resembles a tree. He goes home to find Izzy barefoot in the snow looking through a telescope at the nebula Xibalba, which resembles the filamentous cellular structure that resembled a tree. She is researching Mayan legends for a book she is writing on the search for the tree of life.

The tree of life in the Book of Genesis is a tree planted by God in midst of the Garden of Eden, whose fruit gives everlasting life, i.e. immortality. Together with the tree of life, God planted the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. According to some scholars, however, these are in fact two names for the same tree.

The biblical account states that despite God's warning that "in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die" Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and were exiled from the Garden of Eden to prevent them from eating from the tree of life as well. Separated from the tree of life, Adam and Eve became mortal and died.

In her research of Mayan creation myths, Izzy learned that the Mayans believed that the universe was created by a man who sacrificed his life and from his body the universe was born. Death as an act of creation. They believed Xibalba, a dying star, was where souls went in the after-life. Izzy is fascinated that the Mayans believed a site of death was their location for eternal life.

Thread three follows the characters of Izzy's book, set in the 16th century: Queen Isabella of Spain will be put to death in the Spanish Inquisition for her pursuit of the Tree of Life. Nevertheless she sends her devoted conquistador Tomas to New Spain to find this tree. Isabella asks him, 'Will you deliver Spain from bondage?'. Tomas answers, 'Upon my honor and my life.' She gives him a ring, and says, 'You shall take this ring as a reminder of your promise. You shall wear it when you find Eden. Then when you return I shall be your Eve. Together we will live forever.'

Meanwhile Tommy cannot find his wedding ring. It has disappeared while he was in surgery, only the stain on his finger remains. We see that the treekeeper tracks the passage of time with ring tattoos on his skin, that started with this stain.

Izzy begins to lose the sensation of hot/cold. Tommy schedules an appointment with the doctor for the next day. On the way they stop at a museum where Izzy examines artifacts from fifteenth century Spain, but as Tommy leaves to get the car, she collapses. At the hospital, she tells Tommy she wants him to finish her story for her. In denial, he leaves to continue his research on brain tumors. Upon returning to the hospital, he finishes reading Izzy's novel, when Izzy goes into cardiac arrest and dies, just as Tommy's colleague arrives to tell him the primate's brain tumor has been cured by the compound from the tree.

Just as the bubble reaches the nebula, Xibalba, the treekeeper's tree dies.

On the brink of reaching the Tree of Life, the conquistador is stabbed by a Mayan holy man. The Mayan says, Death is the Road to Awe, as he offers himself for sacrifice. The conquistador wades through a pool to a beautiful old tree. He stabs it, smears some of the sap on his fatal wound and it heals. Elated, he shoves his knife deeper and drinks the sap, but he clutches his stomach in pain and falls. Suddenly plants burst from his wound. He attempts to rip them out, but they grow back as more plants sprout from his body and his mouth and he is overtaken by plant growth....

Meanwhile, Tommy stands bitterly in the snow at Izzy's funeral. His colleague says, 'We struggle all our lives to become whole, to be complete enough when we die, to achieve a measure of grace.' Tommy walks away in disgust, vowing 'Death is a disease, just like any other, and I will find a cure.'

The treekeeper hugs the tree, grief-stricken. According the voice-over that occurs in part 8 of the youtube version: All he could see was death. The vision of Izzy appears before him.

TK: Stop. Stop it. Leave me alone. What do you want?
Izzy: Finish it.

In the present, Tommy plants a seed on Izzy's grave. Due to my botanical knowledge, I know he planted a Sweetgum seed. Sweetgum has one of the sweetest Latin names: Liquidambar styraciflua. They have spherical spiky seeds and five point star-shaped leaves.


Best. Movie. Ever.

Interestingly, even though the movie revolves around the search for the Tree of Life, its name recalls the Fountain of Youth, which was famously pursued by Ponce de Leon, a Spanish explorer who was a contemporary of Queen Isabella of Spain in the Age of Discovery, or Exploration.

Prior to 'The Fountain,' I think my all-time favorite movie might have been Donnie Darko, which is also scientific and nerdy, yet elegant in the circularity of its plot, with dash of creepy/cool imagery thrown in. At one time 'The Matrix' might have been my favorite movie too. I wonder if there are any other movies that fall under this category?

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