The Fountain: A Low-Tech Epic

Image courtesy of the writer.
As a prompt for an entry on The CJM's blog, your writer was asked to consider what makes a good movie. My usual short answer to this question is that a good, nay, a GREAT movie, allows multiple ways in. If a movie's creative team is firing on all cylinders, if the movie delivers on story, performances, design, mood, music, then you've got a classic on your hands. But even a movie that falters in one of these departments can be elevated by its other elements.

Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain (screening Thursday at The CJM as part of the CLEAT: Cinematic Lo-fi Experiments in Art and Technology) was intended to be Aronofsky's grandest, most ambitious work yet, telling the story of lovers whose relationship spans three time periods. But the movie wound up compromised by a halved budget (from $70 million to $35) that demanded radical changes to the scope and the story. With months to make a movie that had been years in the making, the resulting movie lost many viewers, who found the story rushed and difficult to follow.

Image courtesy of the writer.
And yet to get lost in the movie and discard it for this reason is to deliberately ignore so much of what makes the movie of interest, even in this compromised form. If we cast our attention to other aspects of the movie we find an abundance of rewards. The compelling and fully believable performances of Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz as a couple whose love transcends death and time. The non-digital macro photography used to create the vivid outer space settings of the movie's future storyline. The achingly gorgeous score by longtime Aronofsky associate Clint Mansell, working with Scots post-rock combo Mogwai and San Francisco's Kronos Quartet to deliver moods both intimate and awe-inspiring.

And it isn't hard to suss out a fourth plotline amid The Fountain's three-front narrative: that of a dedicated film artist, battling like hell to realize a unique and insane vision against crippling odds. Perhaps it's that blunt passion that turned off viewers in 2006; I'd argue that it's the same reason the movie has endured as a cult favorite. And if you feel that Aronofsky's ambition exceeded his budget, that his single-minded passion roughens and overrides his story, then I gotta ask you: how often do you see that happen in a Hollywood movie these days? For all of the things that The Fountain has going for it, it's the passion of its maker, for his story, for his characters, for a love outside time, that makes the movie truly great.

About the Writer

Photo by Michael Guillen.
Cinephile-at-large David Robson holds a degree in theatre from the University of Virginia. A long-time fixture on San Francisco's film scene, David has worked as the Artist-in-Residence Program Coordinator at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (where he worked extensively with CJM Chief Curator Renny Pritikin) and, more recently, as Editorial Director for movie recommendation site He has written on film aesthetics and history for a number of online sources—the best place to start would be his own irregularly-updated fantasy film blog The House of Sparrows or, if you're feeling weird, with those adorable simian cinephiles at the Tumblr site Monkeys Go To Movies.


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