Hugh Jackman as Tomas/Tommy/Tom Creo
Rachel Weisz as Isabel/Izzi Creo
Ellen Burstyn as Dr. Lillian Guzetti
Mark Margolis as Father Avila
Stephen McHattie as Grand Inquisitor Silecio
Fernando Hernandez as Lord of Xibalba
Cliff Curtis as Captain Ariel
Sean Patrick Thomas as Antonio
Donna Murphy as Betty
Ethan Suplee as Manny
Richard McMillan as Henry
Lorne Brass as Dr. Alan Lipper
Anish Majumdar as Dr. Spencer
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
In the present day, Dr. Thomas Creo (Hugh Jackman) is desperately trying to find a cure for his wife Izzy (Rachel Weisz) who is dying of a brain tumor, as she tries to finish her novel.
500 years into the future, a lone man (Hugh Jackman) travels in a bubble-enshrouded space ship containing the Tree of Life, with the plan of flying it into the heart of a dying star.
The opening scene of Spanish explorers being attacked by savage Mayans as their leader faces a high priest wielding a flaming sword may or may not be the dream of a lone man flying though outer space in a bubbled environment, his only companion being a giant living tree and memories of a woman from his past. That woman is Izzy Creo (Rachel Weisz), the dying wife of scientist Thomas Creo (Hugh Jackman) who is frantically searching for a cure for her brain tumor, as she tries to finish her novel “The Fountain.” Tom’s careless experimentation gets him into trouble with co-workers, until he accidentally discovers a way to reverse aging, though it won’t solve Izzy’s terminal condition. With little time remaining, she implores him to finish her book, and as he reads it, we’re transported back to 16th Century Spain, which is caught in a dire conflict between church and state. Queen Isabel sends her loyal servant Tomas to “New Spain” to find the legendary Tree of Life in hopes that it could turn things around in their favor. If he succeeds, Tomas would be rewarded by gaining Isabel’s hand in marriage, but after months of searching, his men turn on Tomas, thinking that he leads them on a fool’s quest. Back in the present day, Thomas desperately tries to find a cure as Izzy’s condition worsens.
At first, it may seem like Aronofsky’s quizzical time-jumping epic doesn’t know what it wants to be, mixing elements of science, religion, and Mayan mythology into the type of mind trip that would make Alejandro Jodorowsky proud. The method to the madness behind this intricate temporal puzzle centers around its universal themes of love and eternal life. Things are set up slowly to allow the viewer to adjust to the way the story flows fluidly through the different timelines. It’s more than mere science fiction or an excuse to turn on and tune out, since it requires some concentration and ability to absorb a lot of information to be able to assemble the clues as it reaches its climax. The big mystery lies in how the different segments tie together, whether they’re real or part of Izzy’s novel, and it uses a number of recurring images to blur that distinction. For instance, images of Izzy are often intertwined with that of the Tree of Life, which is a living entity that reacts to touch and sound. Whether the Tree in the future is the same as the one in the past is another mystery, and the viewer’s understanding that there isn’t just one answer or interpretation will greatly enhance their ability to enjoy the experience.
The driving force behind this three-pronged tale lies in the deeply emotional performance by Hugh Jackman, a career high in terms of the range of emotions conveyed as he futilely tries to save his dying wife. His scenes with Rachel Weisz are romantic and touching, but it’s the way Jackman’s characters–presuming they’re not all one and the sameare driven by their obsession, either with finding the Tree of Life, finding a cure, or finishing Izzy’s story by flying the Tree into a dying star, that makes the film so overwhelming.
Regardless of whether you understand the story, it’s a beautiful film. Aronofsky and long-time cinematographer Matthew Libatique carefully deliberate over every single shot and frame to create a lush visual piece of moving art, each segment having a distinct look and feel. As impressive as the16th Century sets and costumes are, the outer space sequences are the most visually stunning, not only due to the unique look of the space ship and star field, but also with Jackman’s interesting look–bald, shirtless and covered in tattoos like a character from a Moebius comic. It’s quite apparent how much time Aronofsky must have spent laboring over every aspect of the film to make it work. Though the results sometimes seems clinical, the experience of watching these multiple spiritual and emotional journeys is hynotic.
The other thing that keeps the film from spiraling out of control is the sumptuous ambient score by Clint Mansell, once again joined by the Kronos Quartet with the help of Scottish band Mogwai. The lush mix of strings and electronics elevates every scene, but it’s even more effective when the film ends leaving a lone, stark piano melody to play over the stylish end credits, which are just as important to the experience as everything beforehand.
The Bottom Line: