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MOVIE REVIEW: The Fountain (2006)

REVIEW SUMMARY: A movie that is stunning not only in its visual imagery, but also in its storytelling and emotional power.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A movie built around three parallel stories dealing with life, death, love, and more than I can put into this brief line. A brief synopsis does not do justice to this film.

PROS: The imagery is stunning, the acting is powerful and heart-breaking and wonderful, the soundtrack is a work of art all by itself, and the whole film is practically poetry on-screen.
CONS: Might not appeal to everyone, this is definitely not a casual watch. Transformers this ain’t.
BOTTOM LINE: Absolutely worth the watch, just for the sheer emotion of it. And probably needs a few re-watches, at that.

My wife and I had seen the trailer for The Fountain twice, over the course of about a year. Each time, we were stunning at the images presented in the trailer. Really amazing, beautiful sequences, all set to some gorgeous music. Each time, we said “We really need to watch this!” And each time…we just forgot about it. I don’t know why. We were busy with other things, we weren’t watching a great many movies, and other films kept coming up and happened to be watched first. So it took until just now for us to sit down and watch the film.

And having seen it…I really, really wish I’d seen it sooner.

The plot summaries of The Fountain just don’t do it justice. Usually, they’re wildly inaccurate. Netflix tells me that it’s a film about a man who travels time to save the woman he loves and unravel the mysteries of life. And that’s ludicrously inaccurate.

So what is it about? Well, it’s hard to say, actually. It’s hard to put into words. There are three parallel stories happening in here: The story of a Conquistador named Toumas, searching for the Tree of Life in “New Spain” (Mayan territory). And then there is also the story of Tommy, a research scientist in the present day who is trying to save his wife, and beat death. And then a third story, a story that ties it altogether, about Tommy far in the future, in a bubble, with a tree, heading across the vast reaches of space to reads the star that the Mayans referred to as Shibalba, the Mayan equivalent of the afterlife. A dying star, and a nebula around it.

And that really doesn’t do the film justice.

The stories are all stunning. I read that originally, the film was meant to star Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett…and I’m relieved that it got shelved for awhile and has instead turned up with Hugh Jackman and Rachel Wietz. I don’t mind Brad Pitt (I thought that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was beautiful), but I don’t think he could have done this film.

Hugh Jackman plays the character in all three time periods, and he does it with a ferocious power and intensity that is impossible to look away from. The sheer level of emotion he brings to the role is almost overpowering to watch. Whether he’s happy, or sobbing, or meditating, or dying…it is just amazing to watch his performance here. I really do think that people who only know him for something like his role of Wolverine are really missing out on the ability that Jackman has as an actor. His intensity is amazing.

Another amazing thing is the imagery. In my mind, this film fits into a body of films, which include Pan’s Labyrinth, The Fall, and Mirrormask. Films in which there is the story, and there is the acting…but because of the attention to detail by the crew and directors, these are films that are visual works of art all by themselves, regardless of the story. Films that put as much thought into the actual image on-screen as some films put into dialogue, or special effects.

Whether it’s the moment of tai-chi against a field of glittering stars, or the spiraling sphere heading into the center of a nebula and a dying sun, to the smaller moments of how the camera takes in all the actors in a particular scene. Or the beautiful way in which the field of stars in one storyline compliment the field of hanging little candles in another scene. Visually, it’s amazing.

The audio is so powerful as to be worth a mention. In long segments of the film, there’s nobody really talking. And particularly toward the end, the dialogue stops (simply because all that needs to be spoken has been said) and the music rises to touching and beautiful levels, as the imagery happens. Those final moments are heart-rending for their beauty, and their poignancy in the overall story.

If I just seem to be raving about the film without having any problems with it…well, it’s because I mostly don’t. Those three other films I mentioned above, that I said this was part of a group of…are some of my favorite films, because of the sheer artistry on display in them.

If I had to have a negative, it would be that I really bet this film isn’t for everyone. I am very enthusiastic about art that I love and that moves me, be it a story or a song or a film. And when that happens, I want to force it onto everyone. I want everyone around me to experience it like I did. And as I finished watching this film, I did the automatic thought process about who I could show this film to…and realizing that honestly, I doubt very many people I know would care for it.

Not that it’s high-handed ART and the poor peons wouldn’t be able to comprehend it. Nothing like that. I just don’t think it would appeal. I think that if your tastes don’t already run this way, then it might come across as confusing and unenjoyable. That’s all.

Nevertheless, if you have a way of getting a hold of this film, I really, really suggest you do. Even if you don’t appreciate it, or fall in love with it, or are moved by it, I’d love it if you gave the film the chance to do all those things to you. And if it doesn’t, at least you’ll have heard some pretty music out of it. And if nothing else, you’ll see what a powerful, powerful actor Hugh Jackman really is. And that is by no means a bad thing to do with your time.

About Peter Damien (33 Articles)
Peter Damien is a busy writer who lives in Minnesota because he just really likes frigid temperatures and mosquitoes. He lives in the crawl-spaces between heaps of books and can be seen scurrying out at dusk to search for food and ALL the TEA. His wife and two boys haven't figured out how to get him out of the house, so they put up with him. He as astonishing hair.

9 Comments on MOVIE REVIEW: The Fountain (2006)

  1. Thanks for the review. This has been on my “to-watch” queue for a while. I’m undecided whether to watch it with my partner or not, though, as I’m fairly sure she won’t enjoy it. Mind you she’d take a punt, but I wonder if her not enjoying it would spoil it for me.

  2. I was fortunate enough to have seen this film on a big digital movie screen before it quickly exited the theaters. That was the most delightful winter of movies I think I’ll ever know–The Prestige, The Fountain, and Children of Men. All of them exceptionally engrossing movies that challenge the movie-goer to participate in the experience rather than sitting back and letting the story flow over them. The Fountain is the least known of the three but well worth many repeated viewings, but if you really want a day, rent all three and watch them in succession (or buy all three, I suppose; I did).

  3. I just finally watched this over last weekend. I agree, it’s hard to describe, and the synopses on IMDb and Netflix are obviously written by people who never actually watched the movie. A gorgeous movie, very sad, not something to watch if you have suffered any serious personal losses in the past few months.

    I’m still not exactly certain what happened at the end there. I THINK I know but I’m not sure. Not going to write what I think it is here for fear of spoilage.

  4. Algernon Bicks // July 17, 2009 at 10:13 am //

    Just to add an extra dimension, there are many, many who find this movie shockingly poor. Just embarrassingly so. Pretentious (and simultaneously vacuous), badly acted (by actors whom, IMDB informs me, claim English as their first language), and written with such ‘clunk’ it’s like watching a piano fall down a flight of stairs. O, dear crikey, it’s awful.

    This is the consensus opinion of the cognoscenti and anything else, one should be aware, would be considered iconoclasm.

  5. > I’m still not exactly certain what happened at the end there. I THINK I know but I’m not sure.

    I’d suspect this is a huge part of it. It never struck me as one of those movies with one specific interpretation, but open to the viewer to take what they want from the movie (usually influenced by their own life experiences).

    Recently rewatched this. I absolutely love this movie.

    I would suspect people who didn’t enjoy the movie either didn’t “get” it, or if they did get it they didn’t like either what they saw or what they got (for a potential myriad of reasons).

  6. You know, I normally don’t like movies that just hang wide-open to interpretation at the end. But this one…I’m not sure what happened at the end and, oddly enough, I didn’t care. It concluded the story beautifully. I didn’t fully understand it, but didn’t feel compelled to. Sort of like listening to a beautiful song in which I mostly don’t catch all the lyrics, and yet the song still conveys emotion, images, and ideas to me.

    (and I can think of much worse things to be accused of than iconoclasm. Although I really don’t think the view on this film was a “concensus” in the negative.)

    Something I left out of the review, because I wasn’t sure how to explain it, was that this movie and the way it ended reminded me a lot of 2001: A Space Odyssey. And why that’s interesting to me is, I whole-heartedly loathed that movie. I watch it every few years, hoping to get it, and every time I just come away grumpy.

    (But that’s probably just me. I ALSO came away heartily loathing Kubrick’s “The Shining” as a failure of film, so I’ve probably just got a screw loose)

    But where the one film, 2001, left me grumpy and disliking it enormously…this one, The Fountain, left me delighted in a piece of art.

    Just a matter of taste, of course.


  7. Put me on the “meh” list for this film.  I agree the visuals are gorgeous, but the confusing plot left me disappointed.  Also, the music didn’t work for me.  Minimalism at its best finds a way to transcend mere boring repetition.  I thought in this case, boring repeitition is all it offered.  If there’s something slightly off in a chord progression or a voice leading, you really don’t want to hear it played four hundred times.

    Still, thanks for the review.  I’d guess I’d recommend this movie for the sheer novelty of it.  Any hard-core SF fan ought to see it sooner or later.


  8. I’ve always thought that novelty, curiosity, or just sheer “what the hell…?” are all fine reasons to see films, myself. 🙂

  9. Rick York // July 17, 2009 at 5:11 pm //

    Certainly one of the most misunderstood and underestimated films of the last decade.  Reminds me of 2001 in 1969. (I was there.)

    It will be recognised in the future.

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