I’d never heard of “The Fountain” before I bought the DVD last month, except for its reputation as something less than a crowd-pleaser. It’d sat in my five-changer for six weeks. But last night I watched it, and I’m very glad I did. A terrific film, no popcorn or cotton candy here, but a gourmet meal that makes you feel it was worth the effort.
Fascinated, I’ve been reading reviews of Aronofsky’s film, and it seems there are three explanations on offer. (It’s not an easy film to follow.) Beware: spoilers ahead.
The first explanation is that both 15th century Tomas the Conquistador (trying to find the Tree of Life to sustain his Queen) and 25th century (or whenever) spaceman Tom, taking the Tree to a far-off nebula, are both literary creations of the 21st century Tom and Izzy. Tomas is the protagonist of Izzy’s novel, based on her husband Tom and herself as Queen Isabel. Spaceman Tom is the protagonist of the final chapter, written by 21C Tom after Izzy’s death. The entire narrative takes place in the present day.
A neat explanation… and supported by plenty of evidence. The way a scientist might give a sci-fi ending to a historical romance, for example. And the way the 15C narrative suddenly switches into a Buddhist yoga fantasy when Tomas reaches the top of the Mayan pyramid. (I told you it was hard to follow.) But I don’t like it.
I prefer the second explanation: that Spaceman Tom in the treeship, floating towards the nebula, is an older and balder Tom from the 21st century. His research really did lead to eternal youth (too late to save his wife) and the tattoo on his finger where he lost his ring, pricked out by the pen his wife gave him, has been added to, with a huge number of concentric rings around his arms – which would have taken a long, long time. (He’s still got the pen.) The tree in his spaceship grew over his wife’s grave (he’s seen planting the seed in the 21C) and the nebula is the last thing they saw together out on their rooftop.
That’s why I like the second explanation best: there are too many things about 25C Tom that show he’s the same man as 21C Tom. The tattoos, the old pen, the tree that grew over Izzy’s grave. To think of this as simply the last chapter of Izzy’s novel requires too many leaps: that fictional Spaceman Tom uprooted the Tree of Life, gained a pen, tattooed himself for no reason.
(There’s a third explanation, involving both 15C and 25C narratives being ‘real’, but there’s no evidence for Tomas the Conquistador being anything other than a literary creation of Izzy. I feel what the Tomas narrative adds is context and balance; the promise of eternal life, and – finally – the realisation that all things must end.)
But whichever explanation you prefer, it’s a beautiful film, and – with an explosion of opportunities opening up in my life right now and the future rushing towards me like a freight train – I was in just the right headspace to watch it.