It's very rare I see a "grey matter" film, which is a film so densely packed with motifs and themes that my brain reels with the information it's receiving. Darran Aronofsky's The Fountain is such a film. After a half hour, I had to pause the film—too overloaded to continue—and return to it a couple of days later.
When I first heard about The Fountain years ago, I remember the production running into lots of problems, ending with the studio pulling the plug, and ultimately deconstructing and auctioning off all the sets. Two years later, Aronofsky recast and refinanced the film at half its original budget and shot in Canada instead of Australia.
Here's an excellent synopsis of it:
The Fountain is an odyssey about one man’s thousand-year struggle to save the woman he loves. His epic journey begins in 16th-century Spain, where conquistador Tomas (Hugh Jackman) commences his search for the Fountain of Youth, the lengendary entity believed to grant immortality. As modern-day scientist Tommy Creo, he desperately struggles to find a cure for the cancer that is killing his beloved wife, Isabel (Rachel Weisz). Traveling through deep space as a 26th-century astronaut, Tom begins to grasp the mysteries that have consumed him for a millennium. The three stories converge into one truth, as the Thomas of all periods—warrior, scientist, and explorer—cones to terms with life, love, death and rebirth.—Source
On the DVD's special features, I watched Hugh Jackman doing rehearsals and gained instant respect for him as an actor. These are rehearsals and Jackman is committing himself completely to the moment even though the rehearsal will never be in the finished film. Whenever I hear an actor say they prefer not to do rehearsals because they feel it "ruins their spontaneity", I think of the dedication of actors like Jackman, where you can actually see the strength of their success: they enjoy performing and are unafraid to immerse themselves in the "unknown" to find that perfect performance.
Anyway, it's not hard to see why Aronofsky has said, "I feel like every movie I've ever made, ever action I've ever done, has been for the sole purpose of making this one film." He put his heart into The Fountain, and it shows. Make sure you see The Fountain... and be ready for your head to start spinning.
SPOILER ALERT—IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THIS FILM, STOP READING!
This film is jaw-droppingly beautiful. The lighting and composition is amazing. The production and costume design is meticulous. The makeup is realistic. The CGI is flawless. Excellence is a word reserved for Aronofsky's level of filmmaking.
And Aronofsky's clever use of motifs and themes is simply astonishing. Hair symbolizes life. Death and life are interconnected. The characters move from darkness into light. The bright amber nebula encases a dying star. The spaceship is a sphere, like an egg or sperm impregnating the nebula. The tree sap is white and creamy, like breastmilk. On the motifs alone, Aronofsky has done a remarkable job.