Saturday, May 27, 2017

Medicine in the Movies: The Fountain

By Sati. Saturday, May 27, 2017 , , ,


Charlene's (mostly) Classic Movie Reviews is hosting a Medicine in the Movies blogathon. The task was to write about a movie where there is some relation to medicine. I decided to focus on Darren Aronosfky'sThe Fountain which is such a beautiful and very underrated movie. The film takes place in the 16th century, in 2005, and in 2500. In the past a conquistador fights in a religious war for his Queen. In the future a man and a tree travel up the sky to reach a dying star. And in the present day storyline a doctor is searching for a cure to save his wife who is dying of brain cancer.

Tom Creo (Hugh Jackman, in one of his best performances) is a doctor working on a cure using samples of the "Tree of Life", found through exploration in Central America, which are being tested for medicinal use for degenerative brain diseases in his lab. He is motivated by his wife Izzi's (Rachel Weisz) brain tumor.

Darren Aronofsky started working on the story in 1999, when he turned 30 years old and his parents were diagnosed with cancer. He had began reflecting on human mortality: "That was a really heavy-duty emotional time. Turning thirty marks when your twenties are over and you could start considering, one of these days I'm actually going to die." His parents overcame cancer, and he began to focus on the concept of a young man saving a loved one from a life-threatening disease. The film had quite a turbulent road to the screen - at some point Brad Pitt was attached but dropped out, there were problems with its budget, Aronofsky even released the story in form of graphic novel. But the film finally came to fruition in 2006.

The film begins with a paraphrase of Genesis 3:24, the Biblical passage that reflects The Fall of Man. Hugh Jackman emphasized the importance of the Fall in the film: "The moment Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, humans started to experience life as we all experience it now, which is life and death, poor and wealthy, pain and pleasure, good and evil. We live in a world of duality. Husband, wife, we relate everything. And much of our lives are spent not wanting to die, be poor, experience pain. It's what the movie's about.".

Jackman recommended Aronofsky cast Rachel Weisz in the film. Aronofsky and Weisz were in a relationship at the time, and so Aronofsky was against favoritism. But with Jackman's earnest recommendation, he consented to cast Weisz. It must have been extremely difficult for the director to watch his own partner play a dying woman so I always admired Darren for giving Weisz the part. Jackman also had a real life related fright when preparing for a role - he watched a woman undergo brain tumor surgery and was shaken to see the woman have similar blond hair to his wife: "All I could think of was my wife on that table. As much as I'd read the script and theorized and practiced philosophy, I knew in that moment that I was so not ready for death".

Clearly these are the things that not only the people involved in the movie but all of us think about. The health of those we love, the fear of losing your close ones, the realization that we are all here for very brief amount of time. In the film. Tom is doing whatever he can and he is tirelessly working on finding a cure to save his wife  Him being a doctor puts Tom in unique position of being able to do something that may really save her. The research does bring results - the monkey's the 'cure' was being tested on condition improves but the tumor is still unaffected. Tom knows Izzi has little time so this overshadows everything - his colleagues are horrified by his rush decisions. In his quest to find the cure Tom abandons all patience and proper ways to do things and minor successes don't bring him joy. 

The film's story presents a heartbreaking paradox - the time he spends working to save Izzi is also the time spent away from her, not sharing what little of it she has left. Tom is refusing to acknowledge this because he thinks she will be cured and they will have more time. Izzi's biggest heartbreak isn't the fact she will soon die - it's that she is leaving behind her husband who is so far away from acceptance of her being gone. Izzi writes a book which tells the story of Tomás the conquistador (which we see in 'past' segments of the film). She gives Tom a pen and the book and asks him to write the final chapter and "finish it".

When Izzi is dying Tom wants to save her in a heartbreaking resuscitation scene. But she is gone. During the funeral Tom tells a fellow doctor that he intends to find the cure for not only her disease, but death itself.  In the film's most moving scene we see Tom alone in his apartment - previously in the movie while he was at work he lost his wedding ring. Now he is sitting on the bed and with the pen Izzi gave him to create, he is causing himself pain, digging into his own skin and tattooing a ring around his finger.

Because of the three stories being so entangled they all are vignettes of one love. The conquistador in the past becomes one with the nature and the traveler in the future becomes one with the exploding, dying star. They find peace and harmony through death. We don't really know what happens to Tom specifically but we see a repeat of a previous scene - when Izzi came to his office and he was too busy to spend time with her. This time Tom gets up and runs after her. It seems at some point Tom realized that death is something that comes to all of us. And perhaps he also realized that his wife would be so unhappy seeing him unable to move on and focusing on what is gone.

In the film's last scene Tom plants a sweetgum seed at Izzi's grave in the manner of a story she told him relating how a Mayan guide's dead father lived on in a tree nourished by the organic nutrients of the buried body.
Izzi: [embraces Tom] No, no. Listen, listen. He said that if they dug his father's body up, it would be gone. They planted a seed over his grave. The seed became a tree. Moses said his father became a part of that tree. He grew into the wood, into the bloom. And when a sparrow ate the tree's fruit, his father flew with the birds. He said... death was his father's road to awe. That's what he called it. The road to awe. Now, I've been trying to write the last chapter and I haven't been able to get that out of my head!
Tom: Why are you telling me this?
Izzi: I'm not afraid anymore, Tommy.

I found the ending of the movie to be very beautiful and happy - in a way Izzi will live on - indeed she does, in the form of a tree in the 'future' part of the movie. Her body decomposing in death gave life to another living thing. And Tom's smile in the end suggests that he finally found peace - he says goodbye to Izzi and looks up at the stars she so admired. 

While the past tale focuses on religion and the road to immortality through that and the future tale shows very metaphorical story, the present day storyline was cleverly framed around the one thing mankind has in its disposal to postpone the danger of death - medicine. In 2017 we already dealt with so may different diseases and medical breakthroughs happen all the time. But we still haven't found a way to win with death and we likely never will. We keep fighting but in truth the peace Izzi has before she goes is probably the best thing we can hope for. The film also illustrates so well how very little time on this Earth we do have and that we should be using it well, sharing it with those we love, doing things that make us happy. 

The film is incredibly thematically rich and gorgeously shot and scored by the always incredible Clint Mansell. And I find that not enough people talk about this one - I don't know if it's underseen or misunderstood but it's a movie that in addition of being very well done also makes you think and doesn't leave you for a very long time. So if you haven't seen it yet you should see it t as soon as you can.

12 comments:

  1. This is a film I'm eager to rewatch as I have mixed feelings about it. I like the performances but I just felt the story kind of lacking and the cinematography emphasized too much on sepia.

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    1. Oh yeah, the sepia. Aronofsky usually has very dark cinematography in his films this was I think even more tone down and darker than usual but it made the 'future' scenes with brightness of the stars stand out even more

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  2. Thank you for bringing this film to my attention! From your description, the film definitely seems to delve into many aspects of medicine - family, uncertainty, death, and coping. Hugh Jackman's character is in quite a precarious situation to say the least. Thanks so much for contributing to the blogathon!

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    1. Thanks so much for hosting it! I love how different the choices for it were, people wrote about so many interesting movies.

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  3. Outside of your lush descriptions, I don't really remember anything about this film other than the fact that it devastated me.

    Such a wonderful post, Sati. The background you provided on the film made me appreciate it even more. Nuts story about Jackman's role in the casting process, not to mention the surgery story...(Dude, how could Aronofsky ultimately cast RW? That's wild!)

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    1. Thank you! Well considering who he is now dating...the man's thought process is let's just say not like most of of...ordinary people's out there.

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  4. I've never even heard of this one, but I'll be watching for it, thanks to your review. It sounds like a haunting and thought-provoking film. Thanks for putting it on my radar! :)

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    1. I hope you get to see it and enjoy it! It's really a lovely film

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  5. This was such a lovely film, and you wrote a beautiful review, articulating the story lines and themes in a movie that's difficult to put into words.

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    1. It really was difficult to put into words. This was lying in drafts almost empty for weeks until it finally came to me.

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  6. I've really enjoyed this topic as a blogathon.
    I needed to watch this film twice to really appreciate it, to be honest. I found it complex, sometimes because there's more going on than just the top layer. It can be a little opaque but it really does open up. Good choice.

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    1. Oh it definitely required multiple viewings, very rich movie and it's amazing what Aronofsky did here and the commitment he showed to the project

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