Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Fountain: A Tour de Force in Integral Cinema

The Fountain: Integral Cinema at it's Best!
Posted on Dec 13th, 2006

This is my review for The Fountain. I wrote it for submission to the new publication The Integralist, so it's filled with Integral and Spiral Dynamics jargon...bear with it.

I love using movies to teach psychological theory and philosophy. Perhaps this will turn into a regular segment! :O)

This analysis of The Fountain is actually a wonderful introduction to these life-changing maps of reality. So, if you are interested:

1. Use this link to go deeper into Spiral Dynamics.

2. Wikipedia on Integral Theory here.

3. Stuart Davis recently interviewed The Fountain's auteur, Darren Aronofsky, for Integral Naked. He and I have been trading notes on the film - read his review here.

So you have two web-links, two reviews, an interview with the director and what
I think is one of the most important, beautiful and ambitious movies ever made. Let's get started.

4. My review:

The Centaur Drinks From The Fountain

A love that spans a thousand years? An Indiana Jonesian quest to find the secret of immortality? A New Age reincarnation tale?

Darren Aronofky’s new film The Fountain will doubtless generate as much confused complaint as it will epiphanic praise. Welcome to second tier cinema. In his third outing, Aronofsky follows up Pi and Requiem for a Dream with a mind-bending trip that exposes the doomed “immortality project” at the center of both science and religion and the importance of coming to terms with the existential reality of death.

The year so far is thick with Orange/Green new age offerings that have included The Da Vinci Code, The Way Of the Peaceful Warrior, Down the Rabbit Hole (What the Bleep Part Two), The Celestine Prophecy and The Secret. These films promise to be revelatory but serve up either Green reinterpretations of Blue literalized myth (Da Vinci), awkward frothy Orange/Green mélanges of junk science, metaphysics and ‘prosperity consciousness” ( Rabbit Hole, Secret) or oversimplified regressive Green tinged with Purple magical thinking (Prophecy, Warrior).

Well, so much for the popular spiritual renaissance in cinema.

Where the previously listed films overlook interior transformation, attempting instead to just translate a static stage into cool spiritual language, or to find unlikely scientific exterior referents for misunderstood mysticism or mythic literalism, watching The Fountain is an exercise in integral consciousness. It uses a narrative style that requires the viewer to flex and flow between the three different realities and follow a story that appears at first to be stretching across a thousand years, but is really happening within the interior psyche of Dr. Tommy Creo.

In so doing Aronofky transcends and includes several historical worldviews and arrives at a uniquely contemporary conclusion.

We find ourselves shifting back and forth between three stories that follow Hugh Jackman (Tommy) and Rachel Weisz (Izzy) in different guises and timeframes. First: the desperate research and experimentation of a contemporary cancer doctor to find a cure for his dying wife, who has a fascination with all things Mayan. Second: the story (penned by the wife) of a Spanish conquistador on a quest to save his queen from the sadistic and self-righteous grand inquisitor by adventuring to the Mayan Amazon in search of the Biblical Tree of Life atop a hidden sacrificial pyramid. Success will ensure not only eternal life for both but also his queen’s undying love. Third: a futuristic astronaut/meditator floating through space toward a dying star he hopes will grant his dead wife’s rebirth.


This is in essence a simple story about an issue with extremely complex ramifications – the acceptance of death. By metaphorically spanning a thousand years, the film is able to offer multiple perspectives on this key issue. Layered and psychologically rich, The Fountain uses death and our psychological struggle to accept it as the thread that unites the different stories.

The conquistador scenes give us a window into Izzy’s fascination with mythic consciousness and the regressive fantasy that an earlier, Mayan version of religious literalism might free her alter-ego queen from the horrors of 16th century Christianity. Here, Aronofsky astutely compares inquisition era Christianity to the creeping cancer of a brain tumor while suggesting a bloody mirror-image correspondence with the Mayan cult of human sacrifice.

It is in the shaven-headed, isolated future-Buddhist sequences that we enter most deeply into Tommy’s pain, and ultimately, resolution. Taken together, it is Aronofky’s riff on the mirrored blood-soaked Mayan and Christian cosmologies, contrasted with the hubris of insisting that science be a way to “stop aging, stop death” that gets us into the nuts and bolts of the dilemma at hand. The tension explodes and is resolved in, of all places, the interior anguish of the doctor’s meditation.

It is this final meditative representation of the inner journey into outer space and how the three stories culminate that will doubtless be confusing to a culture sadly unfamiliar with interiority.

The Fountain uses a fluid narrative structure that traverses Red/Blue secret Mayan knowledge and Biblical references, Green/Yellow postmodern Buddhist overtones, Purple/Green death-transcending love and an Orange scientific immortality project – all to finally land us squarely in the camp of Yellow existential, post-metaphysical acceptance of the reality of death.

Don’t be fooled by the trailer, this is an existentialist meditation on the human condition dressed up as new age science fiction. The surprise ending subverts heroic transcendentalism in favor of the bittersweet and ultimately transformative heart–rending of deep love and loss.

My only question is this: Following his bald adventures in death meditation, will Hugh Jackman be added at the top of the list to play Ken Wilber opposite Jennifer Aniston’s Treya in the movie version of Grace and Grit?

1 comment:

  1. Great Review man! thanks a lot for sharing.

    so many subtle details in this movie. your interpretation using spiral dynamics helps to understand it better.