Thursday, January 08, 2009


If you've seen The Fountain, chances are you either found it a work of genius or, like I did, an interesting failure. It's a love story between a man, a woman, and a tree; with the characters somehow living three separate lifetimes: past, present, and future. Darren Aronofsky has indicated that only the present-day storyline might be real; the past story is the book that Rachel Weisz' character is writing, and the future might be a fantasy or some kind of astral projection. But of course it's one of those films that's open-ended enough to have room for different theories on it.

I personally found it intriguing but ultimately disappointing, until my brilliant wife rescued it for me with a completely different take on the story. She watched it and saw a single timeline with the same characters over hundreds of years. Which is slightly wackier, but as it turns out I like her version better. Aronofsky's version, a letdown. Faith Fennessey's version, one of the greatest sci-fi films I've ever seen.

If you'll be so kind as to follow me to the comments section, I'll break it down and you can see if you agree. (Spoilers ahead. But go ahead and read it, it's not like I can stop you. Ruin the movie for yourself if you want, tough guy.)


Kevie said...

Faith watched the film and saw it in no uncertain terms as a linear timeline concerning the same characters. Izzy actually was Queen Isabella in the past, Tommy the scientist had once been Tomas the conquistador. He returned to Spain with the sap from the Tree of Life, and they married, fled Spain, and shared hundreds of years of life together. (You have to admit, it's quite a coincidence that Weisz' character writes herself as Queen Isabella, and she just happens to be named Izzy.)

But why is there no mention of their shared past in the present day? Here's where it gets interesting: these characters have lived five hundred years since then. Lifetimes. Their past in Spain is like a distantly-remembered dream. Like something you heard about that happened to somebody else. They don't identify as those people anymore, only their love is the same. In the hospital, Hugh Jackman is inspired to use the Guatemalan sample because of a light pattern he sees that looks like the nebula. But it's at best a subconscious reminder of his visit to the Garden of Eden. At this point, in his life as a research scientist, he's scoured the globe for botanical substances that might bring Izzy a cure. The Guatemalan connection just doesn't fire on a conscious level. He's let go of that identity. And, crucially, he's failed to learn the lesson of immortality.

Izzy, on the other hand, has spent the centuries coming to the awareness that the road to eternal life is through death. And as that realization sinks in, her tumor appears. Because she's ready to go, and she knows it's right and it's appropriate. That's why she's so magical-seeming to the Ellen Burstyn character. Only someone who's tasted immortality and found it meaningless can be truly, joyfully at peace with death.

Tommy, however, is still stuck in the mindset of conquering death. Her cancer catches him flat-footed. The reason he's so insistent, so maniacal that she can't die is because they've already lived for centuries as immortals. It makes no sense to him that she has cancer. Not unless she wills it, which in a way she does, but he doesn't get that. When the Guatemalan tree sample makes the research monkey young again, Tommy shows no interest because after all, he and Izzy already drank from the fountain of youth. Achieving eternal youth isn't the problem, he just needs to cure the goddamn cancer.

Izzy writes the book because she recognizes that her life is at an end and wants to record their story, and leave him with an opportunity to revisit it and thereby learn what he's failed to learn so far. When Izzy dies, Tommy begins the practice of tattooing a ring on his body each year, precisely because he knows he might start to lose touch with his present identity, and he wants to remember. He spends the next five hundred years in a state of single-minded focus on how to reconnect with Izzy. He trains his consciousness through meditation. Perhaps as a scientist he helps perfect the technology that lets him travel through space in perfect homeostasis with the tree that keeps him alive. The tree that he planted on Izzy's grave, the one he believes to harbor a part of Izzy's consciousness. He knows that she believed her soul would travel to the Xebulba nebula, and that's good enough for him.
So why is Tomas the conquistador shown to have died in the garden in the Mayan temple? As future- ("Major") Tom's rendezvous with the nebula approaches, he astrally revisits the crucial chapters of his life while in meditation. For the first time he puts the whole picture together. He starts to understand what Izzy understood. It terrifies him and he rages against it, but eventually he surrenders to it. He astrally projects to his meeting with the Mayan priest, who recognizes him as a being of light. He finally pens the last chapter of her book "The Fountain", and as an expression of his newfound insight, he allows the story to end with Tomas dying in the manner of the myth of First Father. He then goes to his death willingly, finally at peace.

faith said...

You forgot the whole part about the "Awe of Death"

Leland Purvis said...

Elizabeth and I just rented this a couple weeks ago. Very interesting take, Faith. In fact, it may save the movie for me.

Kevie said...

Wow Leland, way to be Johnny on the spot! Thank you for making it worthwhile that I wrote this whole thing up.

Here's the quote she's referring to in the earlier comment: You'll remember that they use the line "Death is the road to awe." Her variation on it was: "The way to eternal life is to be in awe of death."