Hair Today Gone Tomorrow
Usually if I describe a movie as style over substance I often mean that beneath a terrific looking movie there is nothing, no depth, no interesting storyline or interesting characters, basically a vacuous experience which is purely a treat for the eyes. Darren Aronofsky's "The Fountain" is a bit different because here we have this storyline about immortality, crafted into 3 stories of past, present and future which link together in an easy to see way. But the trouble it that "The Fountain" still ends up style over substance, the use of CGI, the numerous transitions between eras, the close ups and Hugh Jackman's hair or lack of it all end up becoming the focus of attention rather than the story. And by the time "The Fountain" morphs its way to a CGI smothered ending the desire to follow what is going on has long been lost amongst the sea of pixels.
"The Fountain" opens in the past, a Conquistador called Tomas as in search of the tree of life to free his Queen but it doesn't stay in the past because we go to the future where Tom Creo is floating in a giant orb containing a tree which is heading off into space. But for the most "The Fountain" is set in the present as Tommy is desperately trying to find a cure to save his wife Izzi from dying of an inoperable brain tumour. That may sound like it could be a bit like "Highlander" with Tommy actually being an immortal but it is no spoiler to say that the past and the future is fiction, it is a story started by Izzi and completed by Tommy.
Now I know that doesn't actually sound much of a story and in a way there isn't much of a story to "The Fountain" but what little there is is intriguing. It is intriguing because it is an examination of mortality, Tommy's desperate attempt to save Izzi and the symbolism of it all is played out over the three stories. Now there is something about this story which is interesting, maybe it is the fact that rather than being about love it is about immortality but there is just something.
The trouble is that the story and its depth ends up lost beneath what is art, sometimes pretentious often beautiful art. Yes "The Fountain" becomes a visual experience a movie all about the vision of Darren Aronofsky, his vision of the past, present and future as they meld into one. And I am not going to say it is poor because visually "The Fountain" is spectacular but it ends up the focus of the movie rather than the story. You end up watching the CGI, the way once scene transitions into the next and the perfectly posed images which deliver a mix of artsy shadow and light combined with slow motion.
You also become distracted by Hugh Jackman as Tomas, Tommy and Tom or to be more precise you become distracted by his hair and in particular his smooth scalp as he plays Tom in the future. It is again all about the visual and it is the same with Rachel Weisz as Izzi because it is all about the look, how she breathes when she sleeps or her eyes sparkle when they look at Tommy. It means that whilst we should have interesting characters they never come, you never connect to them or the emotion because everything is about the visual experience rather than the emotional one.
What this all boils down to is whilst "the Fountain" visually is stunning, maybe a little too indulgent but as making cinema art it looks good. But despite having a storyline it ends up being all about the look and so sadly for me it is style over substance.