[Screen It]

(2006) (Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz) (PG-13)

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Drama: Various versions of the same people try to find eternal life and love over the span of a millennium.
It's sometime in the middle ages and Queen Isabel (RACHEL WEISZ) of Spain has sent one of her conquistadors, Tomas (HUGH JACKMAN), somewhere into Central America to find the Biblical Tree of Life. Legend has it that this tree from Eden possesses fruit that, if eaten, grants eternal life, something the Queen and Tomas want with each other.

In the present day, Tommy (HUGH JACKMAN) is a scientist working in a research lab for Dr. Lillian Guzetti (ELLEN BURSTYN), experimenting on primates trying to find cures for various diseases. His focus is intense since his wife, Izzi Creo (RACHEL WEISZ), is afflicted with a terminal disease, and he's getting ever closer to finding a cure, but time is running out.

Finally, there's Tom Creo (HUGH JACKMAN), some sort of futuristic man seemingly existing in some sort of bubble in outer space where he tends to what's presumably the Tree of Life and has recurring visions of both the Queen and Izzi. As the three stories become intertwined, the characters in them search for ways to prolong their lives.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
As movie reviewers who see hundreds of films year in and year out, most of us are happy when anything remotely resembling something unique, different, and/or ambitious lights up the screen in front of us. Thus, when Darrin Aronofsky came along the scene and made a splash with the heady 1998 film "Pi," many of us rejoiced. And his 2000 film about drug addiction and loneliness, "Requiem for a Dream" garnered accolades for its eye-opening approach at depicting such states and use.

Now, six years later, the visually creative filmmaker is back on the scene, this time depicting the quest for eternal life and love in "The Fountain," a daring if severely flawed film that might play to his diehard enthusiasts, but will likely leave most everyone else bewildered, bored, and/or indifferent to the offering.

Working from his own screenplay, Aronofsky takes a cue from films such as "Slaughterhouse Five" where the same character (or slight variation thereof) ends up bouncing through time, interacting with different people and situations as the story's themes are explored through such contact and travels.

Here, the director's the one doing the bouncing as his story has the characters presumably changing from one time to the next, although they're obviously variations of the same persona, played by the same performers. I say presumably since things are never spelled out precisely about who's who and what's exactly occurring. That may or may not be Aronofsky's point, but it does make for a very discombobulated viewing experience.

The story bounces around three time zones. The first involves a Spanish conquistador (Hugh Jackman) who's been sent by his queen (Rachel Weisz) to find the Biblical Tree of Life from Eden where if one eats its fruit, they live forever. The obvious similarity is to Ponce de León's quest for the fountain of youth (hence, one supposes, this film's title), and this segment involves the soldier dispatching the indigenous folk while trying to find that eternal source of life.

The next one (at least chronologically) has Jackman playing a research scientist who's trying to find a cure for the disease that will soon take the life of his wife (Weisz). And then there's the weirdest segment of all, set sometime presumably in the future, where a bald-headed man (Jackman again) lives in some sort of outer space bubble containing a tree from which he occasionally eats some bark. He then has visions of Weisz, both as his wife and former queen, possibly a result of such bark eating or a cause of it.

Aronofsky then jumps around and back and forth between those three timelines, seemingly without any real rhyme or reason, with various snippets of dialogue ("Let us finish it"), religious metaphors, and visual bits of symbolism supposedly tying all of them together.

The most compelling part obviously is the contemporary one where the researcher desperately tries to find a cure for his ailing wife, all while experiencing memories (apparently guilt-induced) of earlier times when he blew her off due to being too busy with work. Yet, as soon as we start to get into that subplot and its characters, the filmmaker thrusts us forward and/or backward into the other two stories, thus lessening our level of engagement with any of them.

The performances -- by Jackman and Weisz, along with former Aronofsky collaborator Ellen Burstyn -- are generally fine, but none of the performers are afforded enough time to make us truly understand and/or connect with the characters. I suppose diehard romantics might groove on the notion of eternal love (even if some of the characters don't really seem to be aware of their previous incarnations), and the director's fan base might proclaim this as yet another masterpiece.

While I'll agree it's a heady experience complete with cool visuals and an assortment of compelling individual moments (as well as overriding thematic material), its seemingly haphazard construction and execution left me mostly cold, not to mention high and dry. "The Fountain" rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed October 11, 2006 / Posted November 22, 2006

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