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December 7, 2006

Darren Aronofsky's 'The Fountain' is a future classic

Darren Aronofsky's "The Fountain" will almost undoubtedly fit into the same niche of cinematic history as "2001," "Fear and Loathing in
Las Vegas" and "Donnie Darko": disastrous initial opening, followed by critical reappraisal a couple of years later, followed by universal acceptance as a misunderstood cult classic in which the same people who originally trashed it now call it a masterpiece.

It's probably the most adventurous film financed by a major studio since "Fear and Loathing" and breaks nearly every narrative rule American audiences have come to expect from their movies. This will inevitably alienate many people. But when was the last time everybody in the world liked the same movie?

In its simplest form, "The Fountain" is a love story that spans 1,000 years. In the first segment, Tomas (Hugh Jackman, brilliantly
following his work in "The Prestige") is a conquistador in service to the Queen (the luminous Rachel Weisz) in the year 1500. In the
second, Tommy (Jackman again) is a modern-day geneticist working to cure his wife's (Weisz again) brain tumor. In the third, a
space traveler (yep, Jackman) in the year 2500 is on a weird metaphorical journey that's kind of hard to sum up in a single sentence
(or perhaps an entire book).

Many people don't get abstract art, much less abstract films. But "The Fountain" deserves credit for traveling in territory where few
are willing to tread. As in the best work of David Lynch or Stanley Kubrick, the point here isn't to solve a whodunit or follow every
tiny detail of the story to a logical conclusion, but to soak up the imagery and sound as a total experience. Nobody's ever listened
to Beethoven's hour-plus Ninth Symphony and walked out saying, "What was that all about?" The same is true here. Aronofsky
describes the film as a Rubik's Cube, where there are many ways to put the events together but ultimately only one correct conclusion.

It all worked perfectly for me, but its appeal is likely limited to those who savor the most original and unusual films. Anyone who
needs their movies spoon-fed to them should probably stay away. If there's a problem, it's that I think Aronofsky might have broadened his audience if the first half of the film was edited differently; an opening that stayed closer to a traditional narrative might have enticed more viewers to follow him into the more conceptual final act. But in any form, "The Fountain" is a future classic that will surely
stand the test of time.


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