The F*cking Black Sheep: The Fountain (2006)

THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We’re hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!



If ever there was a castigated Black Sheep of a movie, especially among the canon of critical darling Darren Aronofsky, THE FOUNTAIN is it. Not only panned as a failed big-budget art-house project by most critics, the film didn’t even recoup a third of its budget at the worldwide box-office. And that doesn’t even take into account how hamstrung the production infamously became, scaling a Brad Pitt attached $75 million mega-spectacle down to a Hugh Jackman starring vehicle at a cut rate of more than 50%. Hopefully Aronofsky fairs a bit better when his new flick, MOTHER!, drops into theaters this Friday.

As for THE FOUNTAIN, I admit to you here and now friends that I not only like the film far more than most, but that I actually saw the film in theaters opening weekend. I was one of two or three people in the entire theater. Shocking, I know. And while it’s hard not to lambaste parts of the movie for being littered with over-important religious allegory, pompously and pretentiously so at times, I must say that I had quite the experience watching the film on the big-screen in near solitude. I really did. Though hard to articulate exactly why, I will try to get into what I think contributed to such a visceral, quasi-meditative response I had below. In so doing, a case will be made as to why THE FOUNTAIN deserves a better reception than it got over a decade ago. Honestly, THE FOUNTAIN is far better than the F*cking Black Sheep it’s perceived to be!

What if you could live forever? This is the motivated crux of THE FOUNTAIN, driven by a man named Thomas Creo’s mortal quest to cure his cancer-stricken wife Izzy. Spanning 1,000 years – from 1500 to 2500 – we slalom back and forth through the 4th dimension, peering into Creo’s disparately epochal quest to find eternal life. The film starts in a Mayan country in 1500 where the Conquistador Creo searches for the Tree of Life, which in turn grants the Fountain of Youth. In 2006, Creo is a successful scientist maddeningly seeking the cure to his ailing wife’s inoperable cancer. Then, in 2500, presumably after Creo does find both of the aforementioned elixirs, we ascend to the heavens to find Thomas, as bald as yogi monk, floating through a translucent bubble across time and space. The man’s lovingly dogged, grief-stricken determination to reunite with his perished wife is both profoundly beautiful and a bit bat-shit crazy, all serving as preamble to a spectacularly cathartic release of his own self amongst the cosmos. It’s a sacrificial paean, lyrically wistful, ultimately reading as a heartened send-off love-letter to death!

Now, before I get into my personal experience watching the film in the dark on the big screen, by my lonesome, let us recount what hinders the film. Obviously, Aronofsky needed more time than 96 minutes to tell such a sweeping sprawl of a story. 1,000 years depicted in 32 minute segments in each time frame simply isn’t adequate. Surely, from conception with Pitt attached and a $75 million price tag, large chunks of what Aronofsky set out to make had to be compromised, cut, unfilmed, what have you. Then again, since we’ve yet to get an elongated director’s cut a decade after the theatrical release, who the hell knows. For as giant as the movie feels, its runtime tends to dwarf what could have been an even more grand gestalt of a mega-movie-spectacle. It’s meant to be an epic, its runtime disallows for that.

More minor, too many overhead shots and stylized transitions distract the viewer from simply sitting back and letting the movie wash over you as an abstract experience. I’ve heard Aronofsky say every camera movement in the film goes up, down and across, meant to mimic a religious crucifix. Hence Jackman looking like Jesus in the Mayan portion of the film. If it’s true about the cross, that’s seriously going way up his own ass. Ridiculous.

However, by the time we get to the final reel of the film, where much of the time is spent adrift in against the backdrop of decaying stars and fiery nebula, something happened. At least to me it did. To say it was a religious or spiritual experience too sounds pompous and over-aggrandizing, I’m very aware, but I can’t front, it was something close. By Aronofsky forgoing traditional CGI in favor of organic, micro-chemical reactions, which he shot in a petri dish under a microscope, a more inherently elemental elicitation takes hold. Or took hold of me, at least. Apparently D.A. did this to aptly avoid the aging process – the cyclical, circular nature of the Fountain (of youth) – and thus making a timeless film. I’m not sure the film is as timeless as he meant it to be, but the heady approach is admirable, and again, as I sat there in the dark, an indescribable feeling welled up.

The finale all builds toward one therapeutically calming, zen-like explosion. When Thomas Creo (Creo translating to “I believe” or “I create” in Spanish) self-sacrifices himself in order to coadunate with his deceased bride – the feeling elicited is one of breathtaking mediation. I don’t know how else to say it. For me, it was purely visceral, emotional, sedately hallucinogenic, not at all intellectual. As I sat there in the stygian coldness, a warmth washed over me. There was a stir inside. The images were gorgeously rutilant, larger than life itself, and instead of trying to intellectualize what I was seeing, I simply gave myself over to them, surrendered, and let them work their beauteous movie magic.

I’ll stop now, for I know what I conceited clown I sound like, trust me I do, but no other movie this side of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY has come close to lending this sort of theatrical experience. And while Kubrick’s sci-fi masterpiece is still a superior work to THE FOUNTAIN, recall the initial reaction to 2001. Not great. It only developed a massive following as the years went on. Perhaps, as it was inspired by A SPACE ODYSSEY, a similar path will be charted for THE FOUNTAIN in due time.

After all, time is circular!



Extra Tidbit: Do you love or loathe THE FOUNTAIN? Somewhere in between?
Source: AITH



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