Is it possible to feel a love so great that the chains of death cannot bind it? Of course we don’t know, but the feeling of love — that one, true love — can be so powerful that it’s tempting to think that two souls, so united, will meet again. Whether that’s in this world or the next, nobody knows, but this topic has certainly been fertile ground for religions, poets and romantically inclined movies.

The movies have been all over the map, cosmologically speaking: We’ve had heaven in “What Dreams May Come,” the spirit world in “Ghost” and reincarnation in “Birth.” “The Fountain,” the newest flick to address the question of love after death, seems to take in all three propositions, plus a whole lot more, in a muddled mishmash of mysticism.

“The Fountain” ‘s director, Darren Aronofsky, is certainly a talent, and made a name for himself around the turn of the decade as a craftsman of masterful head-trips, with 1999’s “Pi” and 2001’s “Requiem For A Dream.” Aronofsky undoubtedly has fresh ideas to bring to the screen, but . . . how should I put it? If “Pi” was his “Eraserhead,” and “Requiem” his “Elephant Man,” then “The Fountain” is his “Dune,” a big-budget attempt to make something bizarre within the Hollywood framework that ends in dismal failure. (Of course, being compared to David Lynch is no insult.)

The Fountain
Director Darren Aronofsky
Run Time 97 minutes
Language English
Opens Opens July 14, 2007

But as it stands, “The Fountain” can only be seen as a blown opportunity. The production was a troubled one: Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, cast to star, both left to appear in “Babel,” instead. Producers departed, and the budget was slashed. But still, with $35 million and Rachel Weisz (Aronofsky’s partner) and Hugh Jackman in the lead, there was nothing to complain about here.

The problem, once again, is the script, written by Aronofsky himself. It’s set in three different points in time, and each strand of the story cuts back and forth between the others, often confusingly. We first meet a 16th-century conquistador named Tomas (Jackman), who’s battling Mayan warriors to find the mythical tree of life located in a hidden temple. He has been sent on this quest by Queen Isabel of Spain (Weisz), who gave him a ring and a promise: “Together we will live forever.”

In modern times we meet Tom (Jackman), a scientist who’s desperately trying to find a cure for his wife, Izzi (Weisz), who is dying from cancer. He finds a promising compound in the bark of a rare Guatemalan tree, but can’t tweak it into a cure. Izzi, meanwhile, is writing a novel called “The Fountain,” which contains the tale of Tomas and Isabel, an allegory for her own life with Tom, which may or may not be a remembered past-life.

The third segment has Tom — at this point beyond the laws of time and space — traveling through space in a bubble along with the Tree of Life, which may or may not represent Izzi. He’s heading to the Orion nebula where the Mayan underworld Xibalba is supposedly located.

This may sound cool, in a trippy sort of way, but you’d have to be smoking some pretty choice weed to overlook the fact that the film’s not making a lick of sense. Aronofsky, as you’d expect, drops in some pretty impressive visual sequences, the best of which come atop that Mayan temple. But the story fails to cohere, and the passion — supposedly bonding these two across the eons — fails to ignite. Jackman, especially, fails to convince, overemoting wildly, and generally reaching for “X-Men”-size emotions in a film that needs subtler shadings.

Worse is the truly confused cosmology the film offers up: Tom travels in his space bubble searching for a Mayan paradise while sitting bald in the lotus position (Buddhist), doing T’ai Chi (Taoist), and eating from the tree of life (Christian), while also flashing back to memories from his previous lives (Buddhist/Hindu). Never mind the fact that these traditions claim to be mutually exclusive truths.

Perhaps Aronofsky should have paid closer attention to the Mayan cosmology when researching his film. One of the hottest beliefs circulating around the New Agers these days — and “The Fountain” is certainly New Age — is the idea that in the year 2012 we will all move to a higher form of consciousness. Maybe if Aronofsky had waited till then we’d all have been able to figure out his film.

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