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The Fountain

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Trailer for "The Fountain"

Somewhere in the world of cinema there may be a director who can film a bald hero in the lotus position floating across the screen in a glowing bubble without having it feel like a crock of portentous horseshit. Darren Aronofsky is not that filmmaker, and The Fountain is not that film. Aronofsky dazzled viewers with his first two features, the amazingly assured Pi and its hamfistedly intense followup Requiem for a Dream. He’s had seven years to create his third film, which was clearly more than enough time to take his initial idea and torture it out into this overwrought, indecipherable mess. His theme is the role of death in life, and he spins it out through the journey of a single protagonist (Hugh Jackman) in three incarnations: a 16th-century conquistador searching Mexico for the Fountain of Youth; a 21st-century scientist looking for a cure to prevent the imminent death of his wife (Rachel Weisz) from cancer; and a 26th-century astronaut who may have found the secret of eternal life in a distant galaxy. At least that’s how the press notes describe it: I certainly didn’t get that from watching the film, which interlinks and repeats parts of these stories ad infinitum. (The futuristic segments seem inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, a model of lucidity compared to this.) The Fountain coasts for its first half simply on spectacle and novelty—Aronofsky seems to know what he’s up to here, and even if it isn’t clear to us we’re willing to stay onboard and see where he’s going. But while students of mythology may be intrigued by his uses of various creation myths throughout the film, mainstream audiences are likely to be as irritated as the viewers who walked away grumbling from the screening I attended. Hollywood history of the past three decades is filled with bloated flops made by young directors who were given unlimited studio budgets on the basis of having made an independent hit: It would be a shame if, as so often happens, this failure puts a premature end to Aronofsky’s career.