This article is part of a series that profiles several of this year’s Oscar nominated directors and actors by looking back at one of his or her lesser-known, controversial, or just plain bad previous works.
Darren Aronofsky’s films tend to polarize audiences. Attend a showing of this year’s “Black Swan” and you’re just as likely to see someone walk out before the finish as you are to hear applause when it’s over. Both “Black Swan” and 2003’a “Requiem for a Dream” contain hard to watch moments and disturbing images that can cause involuntary squirming.
While 2006’s “The Fountain” doesn’t have the same cringe inducing effect as some of his other films, its mind bending story leaves many frustrated. Its plot is typically described as an odyssey about one man’s thousand-year struggle to save the woman he loves. He (Hugh Jackman) is depicted intermittently as a 16th century Spanish conquistador searching for the Tree of Life, as modern-day scientist struggles to find a cure for the cancer that is killing his beloved wife, and Isabel (Rachel Weisz), and as a 26th century astronaut travelling through deep space. When it premiered for its first press screening at the Venice Film Festival, the audience booed it. The following night, though, festival goers gave the movie a ten minute standing ovation. Regardless of your taste for the film, Aronofsky’s talent for visuals and love of a challenge can’t be doubted.
“The Fountain” is also a testament to Aronofsky’s perseverance. Just before the scheduled start of shooting in 2002, the film’s original star, Brad Pitt, abruptly bailed. Then co-star Cate Blanchett left shortly thereafter. At various points in the production, Aronofsky’s financial backers pulled out, and the script was revised several times as a result. The loss of financing caused the determined director to find a non-CGI means of creating the beautiful outer space scenes featured throughout the film. He did so by teaming with a marine biologist/photographer and his son whose hobby was running a home f/x shop based on a device they called the microzoom optical bench. By sprinkling various dyes and solvents, along with other things they keep secret, into water and then magnifying it 1000s of times, they created a supernova. The cost of a computer generated f/x sequence can often run in the millions of dollars, but all the footage Aronofsky needed was shot for just $140,000 – an unbelievable feat considering the quality of the on-screen result.
With the problem of creating realistic looking space travel solved, “The Fountain” was finally able to conclude its seven-year long trip to theaters. The final product also greatly benefits from a fantastic musical score by Clint Mansell. “The Fountain” wasn’t seen by many, and won’t please anyone, but it’s recommended for anyone who has likes Aronofsky’s other films, or just enjoys seeing what happens when a talented, dedicated filmmaker refuses to compromise his vision.