Monday, October 22, 2007

"The Fountain" analysis

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


Mim said...

I loved The Fountain. I'm so glad it got made.

We're studying the structure and elements of those stories most accessible to the widest audience that still retain imagination, great characters, and fresh twists.

The Fountain has no intrinsic value in that sense, nor does it have wide audience appeal. But, for me, it was a lush, beautiful, and satisfying experience.

Mystery Man said...

I thought of you when I posted this, Mim. I thought you'd enjoy this. I was confused when I first saw this film, and now after reading the analysis, I'm very intrigued by its ideas. Very cool.


Mim said...

It's like my own little, Mystery Man present.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure why people are having such a difficult time trying to figure out if the 'future' story line is a continuation of the present story line or is purely fictional. I thought it was pretty much spelled out in the movie itself...

In the scene where Izzy is on the roof of the house with telescope, Tommy asks her why she is looking at the nebula. She replies that she is writing about it. He responds that he thought she was writing about spanish conquistadors. To which she says, that her book starts in 16th century Spain, but ends out there [referring to Xibalba nebula].

So it would seem to me that her book contains the past and future story lines...

Tim Clague said...

Too much thinking, not enough feeling ;-)

Mystery Man said...

You sound like my ex-girlfriend, Tim.

Thanks for that, anon.


Bunnyriffic said...

One missing key point: Tom 1 wrote fictional Tom 0 finding rebirth as a patch of flowers; and, Tom 1 wrote fictional Tom 2 finding rebirth in a supernova. What does it mean for Tom 0 and Tom 2 to have separate deaths/rebirths but as the same character in the same fictional meta-story?

Mystery Man said...

That's a great point. I don't have an answer, unfortunately, and I can't help but wonder if the explanation was lost somewhere in the cut (or unfilmmed) scenes?

Thanks so much for your thoughts.


Fady Bahig said...

I wrote an analysis of the film here:

I am a very spiritual person so I hope you'd find the article rich in content

Mystery Man said...

Thanks for that.


Anonymous said...

For me, the Fountain is a truly spiritual exploration of death as a path to awe. For me, this means that Tomas continued on his spiritual path as Tommy. Tommy continued in another incarnation as Tom Creo soaring to Xibalba. The beauty of the movie is the exploration of Tomas' ability to learn from one incarnation to the next and to gain a better understanding of love. As Tomas, he seeks immortality only for his own ego, pride and love of nation. In the next incarnation as Tommy, he seeks immortality for his ego-centric love of Izzi (centered more on his need for Izzi than on his love of Izzi). In the final incarnation, Tom accepts death as a path to another, higher incarnation which we briefly glimpse as the Tree of Life blossoms before exploding into Xibalba. It's a beautiful story of growth, love, and spirit.

Anonymous said...

I had been meaning to watch the Fountain for quite some time and finally did so last just so happened to be after the funeral of my daughter's father...we had no idea the story-line when we popped it in. I remember thinking about thirty minutes into it, "I didn't think they made movies like this anymore". By that I meant movies that try to tell a more real story than can truly be expressed in words or images. While I don't think the film was always as graceful as the subject matter would have liked, I think it was a real representation of how rarely humans achieve that grace. I was deeply touched by the film in the end and am glad that there are still cinematic explores being given any kind of budget from the big studios.

Mystery Man said...

Thanks for that.

Anonymous said...

Too many people analyse this movie as if it were a puzzle to solve - which story is real, what really happened etc. The fact is none of it happened. It's an achingly beautiful portrayal of love and death, incorporating both ancient mysticism and modern philosophy. I love it.

lavender products said...

I have seen this movie and sorry to tell you, i wasn't really impressed with this movie.

Geoff said...

I remember reading that post on RE's website, and have watched the movie multiple times. The evidence that suggests he is the same man far outweighs the evidence that it's part of the story.

At the end of the movie, you can very clearly see him planting something in her grave; planting the seed that becomes the tree, thus extending her life.

The future Tom is the same man, because he has the memories of her (the ring/tattoo of the ring, her skin/the bark of the tree, and the very fact that her memory haunts him). He found everlasting life from that tree in SA, and it's taken him this long to find a way to be reunited with his love. This occurs when he flies with the tree into Xhibalba.

The entire time (future) he is trying to keep the tree alive (same as in the "present") until they reach Xhibalba and can be reborn.

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