If I’d watched Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain when it first came out (in 2006), I’m not sure I would’ve liked it, or even understood it, as well as I did when I finally saw it a couple months ago. My views on life, death, and love have changed drastically in the last few years and in the light of emotional experiences I’ve had in that time, which I believe made it much easier for me to relate to the topics explored in the film.
It’s a sumptuous feast of beautiful imagery and recurring visual motifs – the Tree of Life/cosmic tree/sacred tree, the cosmos as a living, breathing organism, the human body as the organic extension of the earth/clay it came from. These all reinforce the central idea perpetuated throughout the movie: that all forms of life are interconnected. Death is thus not treated as the end of existence, but as just another phase in the cycle of life. There are no overtly religous overtones in the movie, but rather a reliance on ancient spiritual traditions stemming from many different cultures. In this sense, The Fountain is parent to Malick’s Tree of Life.
It’s also a love story for the ages, and through the ages, set in the past (Spanish Reconquista and Inquisition in the 15th century), the present (2005), and the future (2500). It remains unclear whether what is depicted is one and the same love story between one and the same couple, but in each iteration they’re played by Rachel Weisz and Hugh Jackman. I don’t think it matters how you choose to interpret it, because the focus is on the sacrifices, pain, and enduring power of love.
Love and death are so interwoven in this movie that it’s hard to consider them separately. Ultimately, the movie is about coming to terms with losing the love of your life to (untimely) death, and coming to terms with your own mortality. Dr. Tom Creo, in the present-tense storyline, makes the emotional journey from being a scientist bent on finding a cure for cancer and putting an end to death, which he perceives as the end of the line that will forever separate him from his wife, to becoming a more spiritually aware person who accepts that death is a natural continuation of life.
In all three storylines, Hugh Jackman’s character is spurred on by unconditional love for one and the same woman, who is literally and metaphorically his queen, the ruler and compass of his life. In each timeline, he is on a quest of sorts while also fighting to preserve their connection, be it battling church authority, cancer, or time itself. The question is never posed whether this woman is worth it – she obviously is, because she is, quite simply, the love of his life, of all his lives, and he will do whatever it takes to stay with her. It’s cheesy, but also beautiful, and not unattainable. If you have ever truly loved, and been loved in return, it will ring true on a level beyond just romance.