Okay, The Fountain didn’t really work for me, although I wholly agreed with Jim Emerson when he wrote, “I'd much rather watch somebody shoot for the moon when the stakes are sky-high than sit back while they play it safe.” Ebert, who’s been doubling back on reviews, recently wrote, “I will concede the film is not a great success. Too many screens of blinding lights. Too many transitions for their own sake. Abrupt changes of tone. And yet I believe we have not seen the real film. When a $75 million production goes into turnaround and is made for $35 million, elements get eliminated. When a film telling three stories and spanning thousands of years has a running time of 96 minutes, scenes must have been cut out. There will someday be a Director’s Cut of this movie, and that’s the cut I want to see.”
Yeah, you got that right.
Personally, I’d like to read an early draft of the screenplay just to see what was cut and try to decide for myself if those lost scenes would’ve improved the film. Because there were some really interesting ideas behind that story. It could have been a truly great film. There is a guest article on Ebert’s website from an aspiring screenwriter in Maryland, Matt Withers, who offered his own analysis of The Fountain. I must say, he did a really good job. Here’s a portion:
To begin our exploration of just what the hell is going on in The Fountain, our first task is to determine which, if any, of the three story lines presented is real. We know that the story of Tomas the Conquistador is a fiction. The book "The Fountain," written in the present day by Izzy, tells Tomas' journey. Since we see no evidence in the film of her possessing some sort of psychic-historical link, nor any mention of Tomas or even Spain in the research Izzy explores for her book, we can safely determine that Tomas' story is just that - a story. Specifically and importantly, Izzy has written all but the final chapter when she dies.
Given that Tomas is a fictional character in the universe of the film, we must now turn our attention to both present day Tom (Tom 1), and Spaceman Tom (Tom 2). It is made clear that both these men are in some fashion the same man. While the evidence could take up pages to list, it is enough to recognize that they have the same name, the same tattoo of a wedding band on their ring finger, and the same memories of Izzy. While it may seem tricky to establish if Tom 2 is actually Tom 1, somehow still alive 500 years in the future, or some other fiction, fear not for the answer is actually quite simple.
Tom 2's journey is clearly the final chapter of Izzy's book, the chapter she asked Tom 1 to finish for her as she lay on her deathbed. In it we find the Spaceman transporting the Tree that seems to contain the spirit of both his beloved Izzy and Queen Isabella to a dying nebula. In Tom 2's journey lie all the elements we would expect a grieving husband, a man who is a scientist not a writer, to present when finishing a story he did not start. It is his love letter to his dead wife.
What a beautifully romantic literary conceit that Tom 2 transports the Tree to the exact nebula that Izzy described to Tom 1 on their rooftop that winter night - Xibalba. His spaceship is completely constructed around sustaining a perfect representation of the romantic idea that Izzy shared from her Mayan guide -- the guide's belief that his father, after having a tree planted over his grave, became a part of that tree and every living thing it gave sustenance to.
In addition we notice that Tom 2, as mentioned earlier, is haunted not just by memories of Izzy and her present day interactions with Tom 1, but also of Queen Isabella from the Conquistadors story in Izzy's book. Since we have determined the story of Tomas is a fiction, the memories of Isabella cannot be real. They can only be imagined. It is hard to believe that if Tom 2 is Tom 1still alive in the future, that the treasured memories of a lost wife would have been combined and given equal weight with the imagined interaction with a fictional queen. So if we accept that Tom 2's memories are only partially real, that lends credence to the recognition that he is not a real man, but a fictional amalgam created by Tom 1. One with the memories of both Izzy and the book that was her dying work.
You can read the full article here.