AICN WORLD EXCLUSIVE!! MORIARTY Takes Plunge In THE FOUNTAIN!! Aronofsky SCRIPT REVIEW!!
Published at: July 8, 2002, 7:02 p.m. CST by staff
Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
So we’re in a weird spot with this film right now.
I keep getting reports about its demise, some as recent as this weekend. Alan Horn didn’t help, complicating things with his seemingly-contradictory comments about the film the other day. He suggested that the film had the plug pulled when it became more expensive than $60 million, but he also talked about how it was rescued by partnering up with New Regency when Village Roadshow fell out. People are convinced, writing me daily, telling me that it’s not going to happen now.
But I’ve heard from sources close to the film, people who are in direct contact with Protozoa Pictures, Aronofsky’s company, who assure me that the film is going to happen this fall, and that everything is proceeding apace. Because there is still such a strong chance that the film is happening, I want to tread very lightly as I discuss the really odd and wonderful script for this film by Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel. I don’t want to ruin the experience for you if there’s even the slightest chance of you seeing it in a theater. I pray I get to sit in a dark room next Christmas and see that Warner Bros. logo come up, followed by the New Regency logo, followed by the sight of the jungles of Mexico in the year 1535.
I’m talking fingers and toes crossed, rub the rabbit’s foot, an extra lap around the rosary beads type praying, too. I want to see this movie. It’s important to Darren Aronofsky’s development as a filmmaker, and to science-fiction as a genre. I can see Aronofsky’s influences here, and it’s one of the first post-MATRIX projects I’ve seen with a voice that seems totally different than THE MATRIX, interested in totally different things.
THE FOUNTAIN is about love and death and the nature of this frail and precious matter we are made of. It is an epic that is concerned only with the personal impact of its incredible events. It is not about saving the world, but it is about how we will all eventually be saved.
Act one of the script is what would conventionally pass for act three in anyone else’s script. It’s grandly scaled, mind-blowing, and ambitious. We see the resolution of two separate journeys, a thousand years apart, both of them focused on the same goal: salvation from the slavery that all flesh suffers to death. In 1535, Spanish conquistadors and a priest all travel under the guidance of CAPTAIN TOMAS VERDE (Brad Pitt), in search of something mysterious deep in the heart of a Mayan jungle. In the year 2500, another Tom (also Brad Pitt) makes an even more dangerous and mystical journey. He travels with a precious cargo of enormous power, haunted by dreams of the Mayan jungle and by the ghost of a lost love. We see each of these journeys build to and then reach a crucial and seemingly final place, each of them intercut so as to illustrate fine points about the other. There’s a really beautiful sequence on the outside of Tom’s spacecraft and a terrifying moment on the steps of the temple, and on a moment of epiphany, we are transported to the year 2003.
Starting just under 30 pages into the script, act two is far more rooted in an emotional reality that we recognize. It’s set right now. TOMMY VERDE (again... Brad Pitt) works as a surgical researcher, part of a team working on advanced cancer theory. His supervisor LILLIAN (Ellen Burstyn) knows he’s brilliant and make leaps of logic that somehow turn out to be right, but she is concerned that he is obsessed.
You see, Tommy’s wife IZZI (Cate Blanchett) is dying. And in one of those cosmic jokes that makes you want to laugh until you scream, she’s dying of cancer. And there’s not a goddamn thing Tommy can do about it.
There is a dull ache that begins almost immediately in this section of the script, a hum of low dread underneath everything. Tommy and Izzy both are just waiting. They pretend they’re living. They pretend that they have hope and that they can make plans and that there’s a future to believe in, but it’s a cover. They’re waiting for Izzi to die, and they both know it. Tommy is dying in his own way as he watches her fade. He can’t help Izzi physically, and it leaves him unable to help her spiritually. Izzi’s on a journey to peace that Tommy can’t join her on, and it causes terrible silence between them.
I’ve seen some speculation in our Talk Backs, impassioned and well-argued, that this film has to be about The Fountain of Youth. It’s not. I don’t want to give away the key mythological symbol that Aronofsky has built his film around, but I can say that it’s not the Fountain of Youth. It’s something even older, even more basic. It’s also a giant McGuffin. If you focus on what the thing is that lies in the heart of that Mayan temple... the thing in the cargo bay of the spaceship en route to a distant nebula... then you miss the import of it. This is science-fiction used to dissect the natures of our own hearts. We have a basic fear of our own flesh that we wrestle with over the course of our lives. You don’t have it as a child. You are fearless. You are immortal and you know it.
Then someone corrects you. Either a relative dies or a pet or, worst of all, a parent. And you learn that not only does death exist, but that it is the end of all of us. There is no one who is allowed to slip through unscathed. Life is a process of accumulating scars, both large and small, until one of them finally kills you. Knowing that... believing that... is part of the process of maturation. We each of us make our own agreement with Death and that understanding that allows us to go on living. Some people embrace the life they have and wrench whatever sweetness from it that they can. Some people wither away in fear. And some people fight, spending their whole lives trying to find some loophole, some way to cheat the system.
In THE FOUNTAIN, we are given characters, each a mirror of another, each a product of the time and place they live, all of them dealing with Death in their own way. For example, what if you were Tommy? What if you developed a drug using a rare botanical extract and discovered that you might well have unlocked the key to turning time back and holding off Death indefinitely, if not forever? If you knew the time your wife had on Earth was limited, would you proceed with caution and go through every prescribed level of FDA testing before making this potential breakthrough available to her?
Or would you throw caution to the wind? Would you break the rules to save her life, even if you knew there was a chance you might be wrong?
One of the reasons this middle section of the script works so well is because Aronofsky has painted a convincing portrait of a couple in love. In those rare moments when Tommy forgets to be depressed, he and Izzy are quite beautiful together, sweet and funny and perfectly matched. He takes her to an exibit of Mayan relics at one point, and there’s a great sense of play between them. These two people know each other the way lovers do, and that means they have the potential to hurt each other casually and well. They know all the soft spots worth poking. Izzi fights dirty, using Tommy enormous love for her to bully him in conversations. Because she’s resigned to her fate and he isn’t, she’s stronger. She doesn’t reopen the wound with each fresh reminder.
Izzi is a writer, and her biggest gift to Tommy is a book that she’s almost finished. The last chapter is the only thing missing, and she leaves it in his care to do so. Tommy protests that he’s not a writer, but he’s missing the point. Izzi mentions something at the exhibit about the Mayan idea that death is an act of creation, and there is a transcendence to that notion that I find quite surprising in a mainstream studio picture. As we watch the national media debate the importance of “Under God” to our Pledge of Allegiance and once again argue about the role of religious language in our daily lives, it doesn’t seem like the easiest box-office road to go, crafting a film that dares to not only be serious about spiritual issues, but also inclusive. Aronofsky isn’t writing about whether or not religion is right or true. He’s writing about the greater questions, the ones that religions exist to try and answer. This isn’t an event film, full of explosions and special effects for the sake of it. This is a personal story, featuring characters that are designed to challenge both actors and audiences. Long stretches of this depend on the ability of Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett to keep us engrossed without the aid of anything else. This isn’t like REQUIEM FOR A DREAM or PI, built on overdrive. Pages go by, made up of quiet conversations, tearful late night exchanges in sterile rooms.
And when the script shifts gears again, around page 70, the full demented range of Aronofksy’s ambitious vision finally becomes clear, and THE FOUNTAIN becomes something that you’ll either love or hate, the kind of SF film that fans always claim no studio would ever make.
Izzi’s book and the film itself fold into one another, and Tommy is either dragged into a vision of the past, or a memory of it, and we see what led to the conclusions of act one. Another love story is laid out, this one more heated and dangerous than the one between Tommy and Izzi, but also played by Pitt and Blanchett. They’ve got their work cut out for them here. There are remarkable tonal shifts between the various times, and it’s like three movies, all of them addressing the same ideas, all whipped into this fractured but somehow coherent whole.
Aronofsky saves a few sucker punches for the home stretch, and there’s one sequence in particular that made me both furious and heartsick at the same time. There is a cruelty to it that is totally appropriate to the story being told. It’s about perception. What one person sees as tragic timing, a horrible matter of missed minutes, another person might view as a desired step, an evolutionary jump. And its only when someone shifts their own perceptions that they are suddenly given the gift of real knowledge... set free and made powerful and given up in sacrifice all at once. Bringing the last 20 pages of this script to life will push Aronofsky further than he has ever been pushed as a filmmaker so far, and I am dying to see him try. This is one of those cases where a filmmaker has set up something terrifying for themselves, a high-wire act that will require them to work at the top of their game in order to bring to life what was written. There are echoes of Frank Miller’s magnificent and underrated RONIN here, and I hope Aronofsky is able to create a visual palette that will fully realize the remarkable visions he’s described. I know this film is going to cost some major coin, but it’s not excessive. There are very few FX sequences, and what there is on the page is all part of the thematic fabric of the story. This is not spectacle for the sake of it. Far from it. This is a filmmaker who is daring to use the paint and the brushes in a way we haven’t seen so far. Warner Bros. can’t make a decision about either this or a new BATMAN/SUPERMAN film... this isn’t that kind of picture, and it never will be. This is like JFK. This is like UNFORGIVEN. This is the type of film you make because it is good for your corporate soul. Read the script again before you decide whether or not you can afford the film. There’s a message here about giving back in order to get, a message you might take to heart.
Once you do, you’ll realize there’s no way you CAN’T afford this film.