As if inspired by Hugh Jackman's doubling stage act from The Prestige, Darren Aronofsky's vibrant science fiction film The Fountain presents the actor in triplicate for an even more impressive magical feat.
The Fountain's three time lines span a millennium, but each features a man named Thomas (Jackman) trying to prove his love for a woman named Isabel (Rachel Weisz). In the 15th century, a Spanish conquistador seeks an occult Mayan secret out of devotion to his queen. In the present day, a desperate surgical researcher tries to find a cure for his ailing wife. In the far future, a hairless space traveler braves the far reaches of the cosmos.
Have these two loving but unlucky souls been reincarnated across the centuries? Or has Thomas discovered the secret of eternal life, and a possible reunion with his beloved? The Fountain avoids tidy answers and instead unfolds as a kind of M.C. Escher puzzle, forever looping back on itself to offer more clues. Aronofsky keeps the tale from becoming too heady or convoluted by paying attention to small, tactile details, such as the tiny hairs on the back of Weisz's neck.
The futuristic sequence features some of the most beautiful visions ever created by cinematic special effects. Thomas travels the universe in a transparent bubble dominated by a large, gnarled tree -- it looks like a bonsai snow globe moving through the golden cloud of an interstellar nebula. Throughout the film, Requiem for a Dream director Aronofsky sets a respectful tone that borders on awe, and keeps The Fountain from dissolving into camp. Even the Spanish Inquisition-era costume drama maintains credibility.
Spanning history to suggest a purpose for human existence, The Fountain occupies a middle ground between 2001: A Space Odyssey and Slaughterhouse-Five. Aronofsky's film makes a kind of bridge between science fiction literature, with its recurring themes of characters seeking transcendence over the material world, and sci-fi movies, which opt for a more simplistic message of "love conquers all." The Fountain brings these two streams together with uncommon elegance.
The Fountain. 4 stars. Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Stars Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz. Rated PG-13. Opens Wed., Nov. 22. At area theaters.