Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Fountain

Requiem For A Dream, to me, was a deeply personal movie experience. I saw it at a time when many people in my family were still reeling from my cousin’s drug-related death. After seeing it I went out and bought it and I made my parents watch it (one could not have more awesome parents than I as they equally loved the movie) I knew of my fathers past, which at times was pretty scary, and how my mother factored greatly in his personal redemption. Knowing this made me self-aware when it came to participating in situations that involved illicit drug use among friends and “friends.” I tell myself that I never let it get out of hand, and in retrospect I don’t think I ever did, but Requiem For A Dream served as a visceral reminder of what not to do. Though my father ended up being one of the greatest people I’ve ever known, his road to get there was tough and Requiem For A Dream was my first literal experience of his tales, albeit kicked up a proverbial notch.

Having been so affected by Requiem For A Dream, I’ve been looking forward to The Fountain for what seems like a millennium. I couldn’t wait to see what Darren Aronofsky had to show me. I felt a deep connection to his style and narrative that has only been cemented further after having finally seen the film. I’d be lying if I didn’t think, on some cosmic level, that The Fountain was written directly for me.

This isn’t a notion that I think is entirely without merit, as I had stated above Requiem For A Dream helped my family and I through a trying, difficult time in our lives by revealing new perspectives on situations that it was hard to see a different side of. What Requiem did for drugs, The Fountain does for death. I experienced a life event last year that unfortunately everyone will have to go through at some point, the death of my mother. Yes it was over a year ago now but as I recently discovered, I’m not the only person in my family who is still trying to deal with it. They say time heals all wounds, but according to The Fountain, there are just some wounds that time can never fully heal.

We begin with a conquistador named Tomas that is set about on a quest to find the biblical "Tree of Life" by Queen Isabel of Spain. His tale is interwoven with that of a modern day brain surgeon looking for a cure for his wife, who is dying from an untreatable brain tumor; and that of an unnamed space traveler on his way to a dying star with a nearly dead tree. It’s hard to see how these stories connect just from the literal description or synopsis, but as with most science-fiction films, its never really about what its about.

The yarns that Aronsofsky spins in The Fountain are all linked by one theme: everlasting life and the desire to find it (or end it, depending on your perspective). Our conquistador views it as a literal quest, much like that of any conqueror or explorer searching for anything. Our brain surgeon views it as an obsession, a means to escape the pain of his wife’s impending fate. Our space traveler, who seems to be the most tragic of the three, views it as a curse. He tattoo’s his arms (with ash and a rusty old calligraphy pen) with rings like a tree, (assumedly) one for every year he’s been alive. I didn’t count each one, but he’s filled one arm entirely, and the other is almost out. As we’ll learn later, this isn’t to merely count the time, but as a means of torturing himself for what he’s done.

Death is immensely haunting, it’s a beast that stalks us every day. I assumed The Fountain would be profoundly sad, as with almost every tale of death and its ramifications. I figured I would cry; many scenes took place in a hospital and I still have trouble even thinking about a hospital room because of all the time I spent in them during my mother’s illness. Loss is sad, death is loss, so obviously death is sad. But, to me, The Fountain wasn’t sad at all. Sure there were sad scenes, almost every good story with a point is going to have some, but as a whole the movie was overwhelmingly positive. It’s hard sometimes to see the good side of death, beyond the usual “They’re better off” speech.

We’re often so hung-up on the here and now reality of death that we forget what death means not only in the long run, but it’s spiritual implications as well. I used to be an atheist, and I’ve heard some good arguments for atheism, but I’ve always been of the “why not?” school as far as the existence of God is concerned. It’s never been something I’ve committed myself to, but it is a concept that I’ve thought a lot about. I believe spirituality is a personal matter, meant for discussion with those you love and care about, so I’ll keep this brief. I’m of the notion that we’re all connected, every living thing on this planet is connected on some level: every human, animal, insect, plant etc. What is that connection? I don’t know. Will I ever know? Probably not, but I’ve got a few ideas.

The Fountain is ultimately about that connectedness and how death is merely a shifting of those connections from the physical to the metaphysical. My mother is dead in the physical sense, but her “spirit” or “aura” has the ability to live forever (depending on the person, "spirit" or "aura" can mean a dozen different things. In the case of The Fountain, the physical represents the human form, while the metaphysical is represented by the more tacit conceit of a tree or nature. Is The Fountain saying that our soul becomes a tree when we die? No not really, but it can be interpreted as that. It’s merely stating that no matter what happens to us, no matter where our physical body ends up, we will always end up back in nature. The “we” that ends up back in nature is more for the individual to decide, do our bodies decompose and hence fertilize the earth or do our souls “become trees”?

Death is the ultimate unavoidable truth of our existence. No matter what happens to you when you live, you are always going to die, there’s simply no way around it. The Fountain doesn’t claim to know everything, and it doesn’t claim to offer any kinds of answers, just suggestions. Because of the powerful nature of the movies message, I can’t really interpret much of what those suggestions are for you. You just have to see it and interpret it for yourself, because of that I’m sure plenty of people will be turned away by this film, even the people that it was made for; either by the concept flying over their heads or by not noticing or caring for it’s inherent subtleties. The Fountain is not an obvious movie.

As with most things in life, people are always looking for the quick answers and they aren’t used to having to find the meaning for themselves. Even with death, we try and just forget about it and if we forget about it, then we forget about the pain it caused. I’m not saying you should remember it every second of the day or think about it whenever you can, just recognize that you will think about it and that it will make you sad sometimes. Much like The Fountain, life isn’t about what life is about, life is about the journey and the acceptance of its unavoidable end.