Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Fountain

I won't have time in the very near future to write something that would do Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain justice. So, until I can get around to that I wanted to throw up a little acknowledgement that I watched it with mouth open, eyes wide, body frozen. In short: it's a visual and meditative stunner.

Feel free to comment if you've seen the film. If you haven't seen it yet, skip the comments and reviews --you really should go in cold, without preconceived notions. This type of film, the kind wherein the artist uses their chosen art form as a mode of personal expression rather than as a way to tell entertaining stories, is nearly always divisive. You can't measure their worth by rotten tomato scores, box office numbers, or Oscar nominations. This kind of film tends to fail when faced with those collective measures of worth--they have their limitations. It comes down to this: personal expressions deserve personal responses. So experience it for yourself.

Even if you don't like it or don't get it or don't think it's much beyond pretty, you'll still have supported a strong filmmaker who really shouldn't be struggling for years in between films to raise money. In a better world, no one who makes movies as indelible as The Fountain and Requiem for a Dream should be begging for financing.

42 comments:

15 year old blogger said...

Tom O'Neil thinks that the Fountain is a secret Oscar Gusher...With Hugh Jackman getting in for BEST ACTOR. I can see that happening, since the Fountain was a greatmovie. It makes you think about it for a long time, and I thought that was great. After watching the Fountain I snuck into Deja Vu with my cousin who thought the Fountain sucked. (He's a confused child himself) I didn't like Deja Vu that much though. Personally, I loved the Fountain. The visuals were great and this shows that you can make an excellent special effects and visually stunning movie for 35 million without spending hundreds of millions trying to create the same thing.

shooter said...

I hope its better than last year's Sin City. A film overpriased by movie geeks because of its visual style and presentation.

I seroiusly dont know what to think of this movie, which I have never seen, but everytime I see it I keep getting reminded of Sin City for some reason.

Nonetheless, it looks like the type of movie that will become a classic in years time.

adam k. said...

I also was very impressed when I learned it was made for only $35 million. I thought it was like a $100 million art film that would go down as a huge money loser/disappointment along the lines of Kingdom of Heaven or, I dunno, Flags of our Fathers.

I was rather speechless after seeing The Fountain the other day, and wasn't sure I liked it very much, but the more I think about it, the more I think I might love it. It really is a work of art. I'll be seeing it again soon.

Hugh Jackman (!!!) and the score (!!!) in particular I knew I loved the first time around. Hugh has now delivered the performance his fans always knew he was capable of (i.e. a truly great one). And Clint Mansell is just awesome.

I think actually Hugh and the score could get surprise globe noms. The film and its director, not so much. But that's OK.

And as divisive as it is, I don't think it has any chance of oscar noms, except maybe for score and/or visual effects, and maybe MAYBE Best Actor (I'm sure Jackman has his share of fans, and he's had quite a prolific year).

I suppose there's always the chance it could turn into an audience phenom, given time (the critics weren't bowled over by Titanic either), but I'm not holding my breath.

Alright, that's all I've got to say. Check my blog for more on my own evolving thoughts about the film.

Aaron said...

I thought the film was fabulous. Mostly I am grateful for the imagination of Darren Aronofsky, if nothing else. We lack imagination nowadays and something this stunning and extraordinarily beautiful really is why I go to the movies in the first place. Cheers.

NATHANIEL R said...

oh and P.S.: Hugh Jackman is awesome. that is all.

Aaron said...

I take it he is frontrunner in the FilmBitch awards for Best Actor?

Aaron said...

Oh and that scene in the bathtub! My god. So sexy and so beautiful. I need to see this movie again.

Rob said...

Did I not tell you, Nat? I told you I'm not wrong on EVERYTHING.

David S. said...

I concur. Obviously I responded to the film very strongly and very personally; so personally, in fact, that it ended up putting my whole idea of film criticism's importance into question. I don't know..all I know is that this film was beautiful. I could barely breathe. I have been listening to the song that played over the credits on repeat since I came back from the movie.

adam k. said...

Yeah, I downloaded the soundtrack too, and have been listening to it non-stop.

And I HOPE Jackman gets some kinda FB award. I love that man so much.

FYC for Best Actor in a Leading Role:
Hugh Jackman, The Fountain
James McAvoy, The Last King of Scotland (as deserving as Whitaker, IMO)

Barry said...

Im still deciding on whether to give The Fountain an A- or an A. Both ways though, its an excellent film. Hugh Jackman gives the performance of his career and Rachel Weisz is stunning with her limited screen time. The visuals are excellent and Darren Aronofsky is a masterful director. To be washed away in those visuals was an amazing experience.

Kevin Laforest said...

Best film of the year.

Glad to know some others think so, I'd been depressed by the critical reception so far.

James said...

I saw The Fountain on Wednesday and have not been able to stop thinking about. I'm not sure I liked it or understood it, but it has lingered in my mind more so than any other film I've seen this year. What makes the film an experience (no matter good or bad) is that I believe is the film Darren Aronofsky wanted to make and it's the-stakes-are-high-just-watch-it-plunder attitude makes it without question a movie with merit. Visually it's breathtaking and Hugh Jackman has never been this focused and committed before-- his performance is beautiful, and if even like the film, it comes this close to being transcedent, it's still quite an accomplishment. Maybe Aronofsky is the next Stanley Kubrick?

Kamikaze Camel said...

And think, this was going to star Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett.

...:/

I have to wait until January I believe. More reason to hate everything in existence.

Middento said...

I concur with everyone else: I loved it as well, even as I'm certain I don't understand it. I found it ambitious and definitely a movie that forced you to think really hard, which may explain why I think I was one of five people in the theater that liked it at the preview screening where I saw it.

For me, I thought it had the same vibe at 2001: A Space Odyssey for our ages. What do you think?

NATHANIEL R said...

middento --i found that thinking too hard about it was a deterrent to enjoying it. And I don't mean that in an intellectual way so much as a Buddhist way... as in erase the mind, just be. that sort of new-agey "power of now" mindset.

JA said...

I just managed to get out some of my ideas about the film over here; I can't stop thinking about it either.

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Beau said...

i can't get it out of my head.
aronofsky incorporates so much here, from mayan civilization to buddhist beliefs... it's just so audacious and ambitious I'm stunned more people don't give it the credit it deserves. Weisz has never looked better and, in my personal opinion, delivers her best performance as well. (I'm fond of her work in "The Constant Gardener", but didn't fall in love with it.)
She's so utterly transfixing and heartbreaking in this that, more than any other aspect of the film, it's her face, her faith and her strength that haunts me now, five days after the film.

It's become sort of a joke with me now. Everytime I read a review that labels the film 'pretentious', I'm reminded of "The Princess Bride" with Wallace Shawn yelling "INCONCEIVABLE!!!"
You keep using that word.
I do not think it means what you think it means.

steve said...

I already mentioned something about this in the Moulin Rouge post, but I loved it. And glad you seem to at least really like it, too. I'm kind of bouncing back and forth between an A and an A- myself. I guess it doesn't make much difference, really.

I'm totally with you on the overthinking-is-bad issue regarding this movie - I think it's supposed to resonate more emotionally than intellectually. And in that vein, Jackman and Weisz are perfect vessels for the emotions at hand. I think Weisz, in particular, hasn't gotten enough credit here - maybe people don't like that she's embodying an ideal rather than a character? But she does it so well. Her reading of "My conquistador..." is almost heartbreaking in its earnestness.

Oh yeah, and Jackman does indeed rock.

Alex said...

I'll disagree here; I really think I didn't get it. While the visuals were extremely interesting, I must have missed the deeper meaning of it, or I didn't find the themes of love/death/life interesting.

Oh, and while I understand people loving it, I really think that even Oscar noms (in non-technical/visual areas) are just wishful thinking.

Anonymous said...

So, you liked it, huh? I adore it as well. My favorite movie of the year so far, and Hugh Jackman was amazing. Words cannot describe this movie. I preferred Requiem, but still.

Anonymous said...

Alex, you "got" it. There is no deeper meaning beyond its self-evident Agape/New Age/Hallmark Card sentimentality. And make no mistake, The Fountain is a deeply sentimental film, full of platitudinous posturing and jaw-droppingly facile dialogue. Because the film purports to examine our relationship to mortality, it passes for something more edgy and intellectually incisive than it really is. But much in the way that Donnie Darko (a far better piece of filmmaking than The Fountain)got away with muddy intellectualizing under the guise of "science fiction," The Fountain seeks to flim-flam its audience with "fake science" and nods towards Buddhism, etc.

I am, I admit, flabbergasted by the positive response to this film here. I grow weary of those who would claim that visual audacity- or, in this case, visual sap piled upon visual cliche, topped off with a healthy dose of visually clogged arteries- equals "ambition." Any hack with a camera, including mindless music-video makers, can achieve moments of visual audacity. But they rarely achieve anything resembling narrative complexity. Narrative is comprised of more than an audacious visual imagination. Sadly, for this viewer, The Fountain failed on every basic narrative level, including its script, its image structure, its acting (though this is surely a result of the desultory script; rarely have I encountered such feeble, fortune cookie dialogue)and its director's over-reaching "vision."

C-. It's not a D because I am fond of Requiem for A Dream.

Beau said...

Apoligies, but how does a regard you hold for one film affect your love for another? Especially when they hold no connection to the other past their creator?

And I can think of quite a few films released in the past few years, where the dialogue has come off so much more contrived and ridiculous than anything on display here. Also: your labeling of misc. music-video directors as 'mindless' is without merit and without credibility. I've seen many talented directors, (ex. Gondry, Glazer, Jonze) exit from that artistic arena with an added amount of talent and focus with their projects, and they went on to create wonderous works of art.

Ali said...

Kinda off-topic, but: Nathaniel, are you holding off on posting the Notes on a Scandal grade because of the embargo?

I'm holding off on The Fountain discussion until I see it one more time. Since my reactions to the first two screenings have been completely at odds, I have no idea what to think of it yet.

adam k. said...

...what embargo?

Kamikaze Camel said...

A lot of the early screenings of movies have embargos on them, stopping audiences writing stuff, yet nobody seems to adhere to them. And other people have written about Notes so I think he must be generally confused with a grade.

An A- for The Fountain sounds very impressive. The B+ for The Painted Veil surprised me though.

NATHANIEL R said...

just wanted to responsed to anonymous a bit here...

he wrote:

"There is no deeper meaning beyond its self-evident Agape/New Age/Hallmark Card sentimentality. And make no mistake, The Fountain is a deeply sentimental film"

I can't say that I agree. Yes, its' certainly New Age flavored but it's far from Hallmark sentimentality. If you're looking for that I'd recommend Stranger Than Fiction, which approaches the topic of death with typical fear and 'this should NOT happen!' moves into what looks to be acceptance and then backs away and teaches you, again, to LOVE LIFE! That is traditionally sentimental.

The Fountain actually posits, I think, a very mature 'accept it, stop fearing it' stance which I think is fairly rare.

"The Fountain seeks to flim-flam its audience with "fake science" and nods towards Buddhism, etc"

Unless you're taking a hardline stance against Eastern spirituality why would you say that a Buddhist approach to a story is flim-flam'ing us? And how is the 'fake science' doing the same? I personally didn't take the science seriously --It's not what the film is about. It's narrative dressing is all.

But yes I'll give you that as a narrative it isn't much of a film. I think people are getting way to caught up in story and thus rejecting it. But again... I don't personally really care about narrative in the way a lot of viewers do --at least when the director doesn't either (if that's all a filmmaker is doing of course it's very very important that the story "work in the traditional sense.

Cinema for cinema's sake is more important to me than story.

Anonymous said...

beau,

I stand by my previous comment. Jonze and Gondry ARE largely mindless, faddish and hugely overrated. Glazer is another matter. There are always exceptions.

nathaniel,

It seems I don't like The Fountain for the very reasons you do like it. So we'll agree to disagree on this one.

What does loving cinema for cinema's sake mean, exactly? A film is not comprised solely of a series of random moving images. At least, I have rarely seen such a beast that works. Certain John Maybury shorts, perhaps, which are rendered purely visually in successively more (seemingly) random pictorial sequences. A few Chantal Akerman film "mosaics," perhaps. These are shorts, however, which I think is important to keep in mind.

Were it simply a matter of images pieced together on screen, we'd have no need of speaking actors, editing suites and the lot. What makes a film great, or even merely good, is narrative coherence. Not plot. I repeat: not plot. Sometimes I think people who make the argument that "story" is unnecessary wrongly equate narrative with plot. If that is the case, I would agree with you. PLOT is largely something on which to hang narrative components.

What are those? Character development, image structure, dramatic action (as opposed to mere "event"), metaphor, the spoken word, and a litany of other, more subtle, components.

For me, The Fountain lacks all sense of narrative coherence and actually IS built around narrative's less worthy sister: plot. Albeit a ridiculous plot, worthy of a sci-fi soap opera, but a plot nonetheless. And that's where it stops. Cod golden light and a dying woman shot through a succession of sophisticated filters does not make up for the film's undergraduate philosophizing about the meaning of death. Nor does the film's flimsy use of metaphor hold up to the steely rigor of superior films on related themes, including Providence, Death in Venice, Blue Velvet, Birth (yeah, there's that Glazer guy) and Sunrise.

Every one of the films cited does not have a "plot" so much as it has a narrative complexity and a sophisticated image structure. Not a single one of them relies on either dialogue or "story," per se, to advance its narrative.

I'm not much interested in swimming with the tide. I don't have a lot of time for the modish affectations of the Kaufmanns, Jonzes, Gondrys, et al. I DO have a lot of time for Darren Aronofsky, though. I simply don't have a lot of time for his latest entry. The reductive tone of his script (why use one if it's not "necessary?") and his desire to paint with ludicrously broad strokes (which, in fairness to him, may have been "dictated" by the studio/distributor-- anyone who thinks filmmakers have a free hand, even with "final cut," needs some cold water thrown over his head)insults intelligence and discourages active engagement with the film.

In terms of being "radical," The Fountain is as conservative as they come.

Anonymous said...

Not meaning to be rude, but will you hurry the f*ck up and give us your review on 'Notes of a scandal'.
If you hated it (as i predict) please just go ahead and say so.
I couldn't care two figs about 'The Fountain' but am desparately awaiting your comments on 'Notes of a scandal'

Steve said...

To anonymous:

I'm wondering, what distinction do you make between "narrative" and "plot"? I believe they're ultimately the same thing.

Anonymous said...

Now that is what I can't stand. Stop making entire wide-sweeping generalisions, please.

And don't be such a pretencious git. Unless you're some world class film maker (which I doubt highly) then don't try to teach us about a medium we have all been watching for years/decades.

*Carly*

NATHANIEL R said...

i've lost track of who is saying what to whom

Anonymous said...

*Carly,*

It's "pretentious." And how do you know I'm not a "world-class filmmaker?" One never knows... Perhaps I'm tired of the way in which the internet has spawned an army of self-important, deluded "film critics." Keep watching over the next bunch of decades, ok? You still won't know the difference between a glimmerglass filter and a technocrane shot.

Steve,

No rudeness in your post. My last post does address the distinction I make between "narrative" and "plot."

Alex said...

I can't speak for the poster above, but for me narrative and plot are different things.

Plot is what happens, narrative is how you explain it. Neither was very well represented in The Fountain, but that wasn't the point of the film.

Unfortunately, my favorite film quality is good narrative, so...

Steve said...

To anonymous (again),

I guess I sort of understand your distinction, and alex kind of brings into clearer focus: plot as the storyline and narrative as the way it's told (or, as Roger Ebert is so fond of saying (correctly, I think), "how a movie is about what it's about"), but I still think that it's difficult to separate the two, since every narrative needs a plot (no matter how obscure or abstract) and every plot neets a narrative (no matter how pedestrian).

Anyway, I can't remember who said it, but I rather like the description of The Fountain as a kind of cinematic poem. Simple. There's a story there, but not quite. It's about the imagery conjured, not necessarily the prose.

NATHANIEL R said...

i understand the distinction you're all getting at too. and if that's the gospel then I am anti-plot and pro-narrative in most cases.

but again... in the case of The Fountain I think many people are not liking it because of their plot love --which is disappointing. It makes sense but there's more than one way to see a movie.

I realize many people also just hate new age ideas / eastern spirituality / etc too... but what are you going to do. you can't please everyone and I love it when filmmakers are willing to put themselves out there (see also Sofia Coppola and John Cameron Mitchell this year) criticisms of their lives/beliefs/obsessions be damned.

Anonymous said...

my 2nd worst film of the year. pointless, poor, weisz was horrible, worst performance of the year...

susan...

Beau said...

...
honey, did you see Hanks in "The Da Vinci Code"?

Alex said...

Actually, I consider myself to be quite anti-plot and pro-narrative (i.e. I like simple stories told in clever ways, I like seeing movies which do not resort to dialogue to explain what's happening, I like long silent scenes where we know about characters' personalities, etc.)

However, explaining the story "she's dying, and he cannot do anything to save her, but their love is eternal" through flashbacks to a book she's written... (yes, I probably don't get it- I also can't place well the futuristic theme scenes)... is not exactly the most original narrative device ever.

Maybe I'm just asking for a little bit of hand-holding, but I've seen other cryptic films before, even films I understood even less than this one, and I still enjoyed them more...

Herva said...

GREAT MOVIE. It seems so many critics want to trash it's "disjointed" nature or the frustrating ending and unexplained future Tom/present Thomas thing but man people, take a pill! I had no pre-conceptions so I just soaked it all in and didn't worry about "figuring it out." It seems it's meant to be felt rather than figured and the performances and writing and visuals make feeling the story and the themes very easy if you surrender to it. Beautiful film, considering the current climate of studio regurgitation I'd think critics would applaud someone's effort to make a unique and original film. I know I do!

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