Dir. Darren Aronofsky. 2006. PG-13. 96mins. Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn.
In the most defiantly personal moviemaking, there’s often a fine line between the bold and the ridiculous, and Aronofsky’s mystical vision quest crosses it the moment Jackman takes up interstellar tai chi. Pervaded by a cultish mysticism that draws on Buddhism, the Old Testament, Spanish colonialism and—but of course—2001’s star-child segment, The Fountain has a lot of ideas that might play well individually. But Aronofsky’s faith in assuming they’d cohere is the kind of foolhardiness that destroys reputations.
Without pausing for clarity, the movie cycles through three stories: A 16th-century conquistador (Jackman) seeks the fountain of youth for Queen Isabel (Weisz); a 21st-century surgeon (Jackman again) experiments with a mysterious tree sap, hoping it will render his cancer-stricken wife (Weisz again) immortal; and a 26th-century astronaut (Jackman cubed, head shorn) mourns his lost love (Weisz). Is this a case of reincarnation, or has one of the characters imbibed from the sacred tree? (And why is Jackman floating through space in a giant bubble?)
The dialogue (“I will not die. Not here. Not ever!”) suggests a case of overripe nerdiness, and the nonchronological editing is so intuitive that the film often seems to have been divined rather than structured. Or perhaps the studio stepped in, fearing that Aronofsky—who eschews the skull-drilling montage approach he used in Requiem for a Dream—had made a meditative fantasy that gives viewers nothing on which to meditate. (In theaters now; see www.timeout.com/chicago/nowplaying for showtimes.)—Ben Kenigsberg