“Just sit back and let it do you.”
That’s how Darren Aronofsky ended his introduction at the premiere of The Fountain at AFI Film Festival. I believe he was quoting Ellen Burstyn, who he noted, “put it best.”
As an experiment, I asked you to take a look at the marketing for the film and communicate, accordingly, what you expect. I did this because expectations have been, and will be, a large source of split reviews. (In terms of viewers not getting what they’re expecting from this film.)
Dave said, “… in the 1500s Weiss develops some manner of illness and Jackman (her lover) sets out to find the cure via the Tree/Fountain (of youth?). Perhaps unsuccessful, he turns to science at the turn of the millennium...then finds it in the 2500s…“
Sean said, “as far as i can tell, the movie concerns a man and a woman, who are reincarnated, at 3 historical points in their mutual life and how their two lives/souls are spiritually/ cosmically connected, and the soul is eternal/ immortal. gnostic/buddhist themes about life & death and how the soul moves between them.”
Not bad. But Fountain is far less narrative than that and much, much more metaphorical.
The marketing and trailer look like a love story, sci-fi adventure about a man who goes across time to save his love. It also looks epic.
It’s not epic: It is a very close movie.
This is, in actuality, a drama about a man whose wife has cancer. The uniqueness lies in the storytelling and filmmaking, which is the only way to be original anyway since there are only a handful of stories that exist in the first place.
For the above reason Babel is boring: I’ve already seen it, liked it far better when it was called Syriana, actually.
Therefore, the genuine, authenticity (which is what equals originality) always lies in the telling.
A New Hope is a good example of that: It is the hero monomyth re-imagined. King Arthur in space. This is what all modern mythology must do: Evolve and tell the story so that it makes sense to the current culture. Even Arthur (and Shakespeare) went through various evolutions and retellings in its day. Each evolved version showed changes that reflected a sign of the times. (The metaphors of this year verses ten years ago.)
Do you see?
This is something that Hollywood does not understand, and it is why the films of the Decision Makers so rarely reach their full potential. (I speak of big-budget films, epic, heroic films, such as Superman Returns). Lack of this understanding is also a part of what makes film a risky investment. (There are quite a few other factors, however.)
Some of the new TV spots for The Fountain that have come out since I first posted look much more fitting as they focus more on the present-time dramatics of the story. So yes, we’ve seen stories about dying and death and cancer: What makes this version unique? The sort of pscyhadelic-archetypal reality woven throughout.
“Magical Reality” is a term that has been coined to describe movies such as Amelie and Finding Neverland. I would not compare Fountain to the either: As mentioned it is far more metaphorical and less narrative, and the images are more sci-fi and psychedelic, than magical fantasy. It’s Aronofsky & company’s style that is authentic.
This is art.
This is originality.
This isn’t a movie that I can simply go, “It’s good: Go see it.” There are “ifs,” but not in a bad way. The first one is that you understand and expect what the movie is, because it has been somewhat mis-marketed in trend with the majority of current studio movies:
This is a drama about a man whose wife has cancer with sci-fi, psychedelic metaphor woven into the storyline.
Also, the film is flawed. Some parts could have used a smidge more. The final act needed more. Not too much: More.
This is one of those films that leaves you connecting the parallels and levels and metaphors as your mind wanders to sleep. In a good way. Not because it was lacking on screen and you are filling in the blanks with what might have been: Because it allows you think about symbolism, archetypes and theme.
The story is metaphorical, not plot-ful. Context is important in storytelling, and hugely important in cinematic storytelling. Whether you be the writer, director or actor, you must understand this: We watch a sequence of images and one informs the other. Change the order: Change the message.
This story has parallel imagery that tells a story in context, which is very, very similar to the style of writing I employ. True, my style is wholly different, but, also, kindred.
Which scared the shit out of me a little, frankly.
Images can show what someone is feeling without said person having to say a word.
Images can show what someone is feeling even if said person is not in said image showing their feeling.
That is what film can do.
Thus, thus, all of this, thus, the reviews of The Fountain and audience reaction will be split, but not in a hugely emotional manner.
Also, I found the takes on Mayan culture to be more relevant than anything seemingly offered in Apocalypto, which again is the mark of good, timely (and timeless) storytelling. Mythology must be evolved in a certain way in order to resonate and be relevant. Otherwise, why bother?
Of course, I have read some of the negative reviews for The Fountain and I think they are (so far) ridiculous. If you don’t like this movie personally, you should appreciate, “This is a good movie that I don't like.” (I felt that way about Sideways.)
That being said, quite a lot of critics don’t understand filmmaking or audiences or humanity as much as they understand free dinners and snark and getting a pundit-style quote on a poster. I’ve simply been wanting to say that for a while, and now I have. In the list of jobs I would never want to have, film critic ranks high. Right before child star and studio reader. Oh, critics aren’t so bad, but they aren’t so great, either.
It’s a dark horse.
Yeah, we’re back on track and it’s a bit of a dark horse.
During his introduction, Aronofsky said, “You should support this movie because Hollywood doesn’t take chances on movies like this and should more often.”
You know I agree.
And despite my love for dark horses everywhere, because I feel similar, kindred, I wouldn’t say “see it” just because of anything: It has to be good.
Overall, I’m really glad for this movie. I had heard from the Toronto Film Festival that it wasn’t good, and I was nervously anticipating that the subject of this entry was going to be, “Why can’t filmmakers make good movies anymore?”
But this is what filmmaking looks like.
The film is flawed, but in ways I can embrace.
It’s the feel and style I’ve been anticipating (and working toward) for the next wave, the near future.
Thus, I hope some motherfuckers are taking notes up in their offices: Strategies are changing.
Were I an Academy voter, (which I never will be, I should note,) then I would put in for The Fountain in a couple of categories.
“You should support this movie because Hollywood doesn’t take chances on movies like this and should more often.”
I know from experience that it is much easier to say such a thing in regards to your own project over someone else's, so we’ll be watching to see if Mr. Aronofsky takes the same attitude toward other spec projects now that he and Mr. Eric Watson have made a deal to develop and produce films for Universal and are henceforth in a position to make the same choices and take the same calculated risks in regards to other stories and artists.
After all, I know you’d hold me to the same standard.
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