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The Fountain
a Graphic Novel by Darren Aronofsky
Illustrated by Kent Williams
. "The Fountain"

Darren Aronofsky, the director of "Pi" and "Requiem for a Dream" has been entrusted with a very large budget for his fifth feature film and uses it to bring a witches brew of quasi-religious symbolism, historical character references, gross suggestions of immortality and the visualizations of after-life, and commits two outstanding actors to make sense of it. Judging by rather superbly intense performances, they seem to have done their part. The result may not be of universal appeal to the public at large, however, though the imagery and suggestive power of it is worth the price of admission. Well, for Aronofsky's key club, that is.

Out of his bizarre mind three stories emerge and weave together. In a contemporary time frame, experimental scientist Dr. Tom Verde (Hugh Jackman in his 7th film of 2006*) is seeking a cure for a tumor in the brain of a monkey. Nothing has worked and the creature is dying. Growing curiously desperate for a scientist, but being a maverick, he resorts to an untested, unapproved chemical from nature: the sap of a tree discovered in the Mayan regions of Central America. The results are astounding and fill him with hope for using it to treat his beloved wife Izzi (Rachel Weisz, "The Constant Gardener"), whose brain tumor is the reason for this desperate experimentation. The animal is her surrogate.

Izzi has been busy writing a book called, "The Fountain" which describes events from the 16th century. It's nearly complete, lacking only a final chapter, which she wants Tom to write. "Finish it," she implores. Though the doctor's dedication to medicine and to his wife is intense and unalterable, he's unequipped to satisfy her request.

The book's story begins with an armored squad of Spanish fighters lead by explorer Tomas (Jackman) facing Mayan natives in an attempt to break through to a pyramid that conceals the Garden of Eden's "Tree of Life," the little known companion of the "Tree of Knowledge" of snake and apple disrepute.

Outnumbered and defeated, the native warriors kill all but Tomas whom they urge on to mount the stairs leading to the top of the pyramid as though it's his destiny. There her enters and faces a powerful medicine man and... death. But this death is symbolic and supernatural.

The book's story lead's to the explanation of this sequence, when the Spanish Queen Isabel (Weisz) charging her knight-explorer (Jackman) to find the magical tree so as to acquire immortality from its sap both for them and for Spain.

By now we have learned that the tree whose sap has been curing the monkey is from that very special tree, discovered centuries later by modern explorers.

The third and most mystical story element is a fast forward to the 26th century for a touch of sci-fi in which Tom and a great tree ascend in a transparent sphere to the Mayan underworld in the Xibalba Nebula, a place whose gaseous design owes much to the Hubble Telescope. In the bubble, he tends the tree, encouraging it to hanging on to its precarious life while he sustains his own life by chewing pieces of its bark. Izzi appears and disappears like a recurring dream, urging Tom to "Finish it." The story. He has the power.

Apart from such fanciful fictional power, however, one must admire the power of talent that pours from the screen in the form of concept, design, cinematography, atmosphere and performance. Drawing on emotional triggers developed with their extraordinary talents, Jackman and Weisz bring to bear intensly idealized bonding and loss. In the surreality context, it's surely going to come off as excessive melodrama but those who place a high value on performance artistry will understand if the pair receives nominations for the work here. Is there a category of "Best Acting Within the Demands of an Incomprehensible Framework."

Aronofsky's fave (from "Requiem"), Ellen Burstyn is notable as sort of an overlayed formulation for conflict and understanding in the role of Dr. Lilian Guzetti, Tom's presumed mentor and boss who is alarmed by his departure from research policy but gets over it. And, while I'm no expert on face-lifts, hers is holding up to the forces of gravity admirably under the microscopic detail of close-ups.

Which brings up Aronofsky's use of the close-up as a stylistic element. They keep reminding us of the expressive glory of a face alongside objects of grander scale. Just on the level of design and lighting, they tend to balance the abstractions of surreality within the constant framework of humanity where the meanings of the drama play out.

Can man's pursuit of the secrets of life through modern science be understood in relationship to his Garden of Eden foundation? I can't speak for the auteur, but Aronofsky pushes the notion with a lot of symbolistic ambiguity (Mayan ruins, biblical destinies, Spanish thrones, research experimentation, immortality, Nirvana). Does the question warrant such fancy cinematic footwork around themes of horror and hope as it applies to deep, transcendant love? "Finish it."

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  
*[X-Men: The Last Stand, Scoop, The Fountain, The Prestige, Flushed Away (voice), Happy Feet (voice), A Plumm Summer]

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the movies tapped my emitional sense of transending my daily struggle and charged me with wonderment. it was a risky move in the sense that it had some much ambition to share something that flows inside all of use but so often is not expressed.

                                                           ~~ Heath S. 

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