First off, if you haven’t seen The Fountain, please do.
My own experience in seeing The Fountain for the first time was in a near-empty theater, just before it left wide release during its disappointing U.S. run, making $15 million globally on a reported $35 million budget. That isolation—the dark theater with scarcely anyone sharing it with me—allowed the film to really affect me emotionally and psychologically.
Ten years on, The Fountain has been compared favorably to 2001: A Space Odyssey for its similar meditation on human existence, transcendence and acceptance of death. It has garnered a growing cult following among the spiritual, the philosophical, sci-fi fans and cinephiles alike. That it also remains a divisive film, currently sitting at 51% on both Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, only speaks to the singular perspective of Aronofsky himself, who spent years getting the film into production. Its distinct special effects were actually produced as a cost-cutting effort. The film’s production had been delayed several times and was considered over-budget before filming began.
Its divided reception, according to Aronofsky, was due largely to Western audiences’ reluctance to confront and accept the passing of loved ones and ultimately ourselves. He used Eastern themes and imagery to relay his message, which surely turned off many American movie-goers; the color white most obviously standing in for the purity of death.
I’ve turned The Fountain over in my mind so many times since seeing it—questioning whether the three characters played by Jackman are reincarnations of the same person, slowly arriving to the final conclusion Tommy comes to; or if Tomás is just a character in a book Izzi leaves for Tom, whose work allows him to extend his life well beyond the constraints of humanity and Earth.
The genius of that structure also works thematically, in that while everyone may take different paths to understanding, those paths all eventually lead to the same place. That’s The Fountain itself, really: the passage of time that brings us to an understanding we may accept with peace, or reject with further obstacles until we do.
Long story short, 10 years ago today one of most mentally challenging, yet beautiful films was released. If you haven’t been able to check it out, I strongly recommend it.