Friday, January 04, 2008

Thank you, Mr. Aronofsky

I bet a lot of people don't even see this movie.

I bet a lot of the people who see it hate it. Most won't even try to understand it.

But Darren Aronofsky's "The Fountain" is a fantastic, stunning film.

I first learned about Darren Aronofsky in 1998. In the days when DVD was brand-new and I had very few of them on my shelf, I kept finding myself drawn to the same DVD box. The cover had the symbol for Pi overlaid on a series of numbers. I'd never heard of it, but I kept picking it up everytime I saw it. Probably the fourth or fifth time I saw it, I gave in and bought it.

Pi was Aronofsky's first feature-length film. It was filmed on black-and-white reversal film which makes it look unlike any other feature film. But my fascination only started with the way the film looked. There was no overt sense of "this is the story, you can watch it now" like with most films. Instead, the first time you watch Pi, you have no idea what the fuck is going on. Even when you think you understand what's going on, you're still left wondering what the fuck is happening. In fact, you pretty much feel the same way the next time you watch it, too.

In the Fall of 2000, I caught wind of a new movie from Darren Aronofsky. To my dismay, it was only playing in New York and Los Angeles. I sent e-mails to the distributor begging for it to be released to more theaters. Being that the film was unrated, many theaters were unwilling to show it. Slowly (and certainly having nothing to do with my pleas) it was released to more and more cities. It eventually made its way to a tiny art-house theater in Bethesda. Kingo and I made the trip down one evening and took in the spectacle.

Requiem for a Dream is first and foremost an emotional roller coaster - at least as far as the first long drop on a theme park rind. It starts out dark and drops long and hard into the darkest, bleakest parts of humanity. Anything else it is - and it is certainly a lot of things, most of which pummel the senses -- it is dark and intense and it leaves a mark on anyone who sees it. I highly recommend it to anyone willing to undergo a true experience unlike that given by any other film.

It was my love of these two films which led me to pick up "The Fountain" on Blu-ray Disc. I had not heard of The Fountain until I was holding it in my hands at Blockbuster. But it said right on the cover, "Written and directed by Darren Aronofsky," so I knew there was no way I was leaving without it.

As it turns out, The Fountain was supposed to star Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. It was supposed to be made for $70 Million. At the last minute, Brad Pitt backed out. The film was put on the shelf for a few years while new stars were found. A few years later, with the budget cut in half, the film was made with Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz.

A brief technical note before I go off on this thing -- I'm not sure whether it was due to the budget or Aronofsky's vision, or maybe a combination of both, but whatever the case the visual effects in this movie were not computer generated. Instead, the glorious star fields and nebulae which (according to some people) land this film in the sci-fi genre (wtf? I mean, really - wtf?) were all created organically and filmed with macro techniques through a microscope. Once again Darren Aronofsky manages to put amazing images on screen which are unlike any film before it.

The Fountain starts off similar to Pi. The viewer has no clue what is going on. Gradually, the pieces fall into place and you get a better sense of the narrative. But the narrative is only surface noise on a breathtaking achievement.

With The Fountain, Aronofsky's emotional roller coaster is back in full swing - but this time the ride is complete. The visuals, combined with Clint Mansell's score, take you from light to dark, dark to light. They go through the deepest guts of hoplessness and despair one moment and then sweep into perfect, hopeful, contented bliss. That the bliss is found in a character's last living moments speaks volumes to the level of insight and introspection Aronofsky has put into this film.

Ultimately, The Fountain is about life and death. But which particular interpretation of life and death is left entirely up to the viewer.

For me, it told a story of Karma -- Where a man loops through the same hopeless thread of existence until he finally manages to make the right choices. There are lessons to be gained here, but what they are will differ with the individual viewer. When the right choice is made, a new path is created for the next experience. The real beauty of the film lies beyond the amazing visuals. The best part about it is that each person will see something different depending on their own particular beliefs and how they view the world.

Perhaps even more than all of that, the best recommendation I can give you is this -- I want to see it again, and soon.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

I read this a few days ago and meant to comment. I saw Pi about three years ago, and I remember being impressed. We have Requiem floating around somewhere that I've never seen. The Fountain sounds interest and the microscope special effect idea killed me. I'll have to give it a look.

Also -- I've got your book around here, not that I've had any time to read. I think I might start it today. As much as I like physical copies of things, it's a lot easier to read a PDF at work than to whip out a paperback and start reading ...