“Anybody need a hug?” asks Darren Aronofsky of the cast and crew assembled around him, with a bittersweet laugh. It’s 2002 and the director’s just flown back to Australia from Los Angeles to personally explain to his team that last-minute discussions to salvage the original production of The Fountain have failed, that the last two-and-a-half years has, in fact, been a waste of time. While the movie’s beleaguered history has been raked over ad infinitum – Brad Pitt’s exit from the project leaving the movie stranded, only for it to be reborn as a pared-back production – it’s still a bit unnerving to see it actually happen.
But while the hour-long documentary on the DVD is a fairly comprehensive peak behind the curtains, it perhaps unsurprisingly doesn’t cover the movie’s mixed reception at the Venice Film Festival. Eventually being released to one vast collective shrug, Aronofsky’s sci-fi love fable – spanning a thousand years – would prove just too easy a bubble to prick and deflate.
The DVD release gives you a second (and a third and a fourth...) chance to appreciate Aronofsky’s ambitious take on the big questions of love and mortality. Anyone who was originally thrown by the sight of a baldy Hugh Jackman talking to a tree as his small bubble spacecraft approaches a dying star, can now take the time to focus on the fearless strength of his performance(s). He shines in his trio of roles: as spaceman Tommy in the year 2500; as scientist Tom Creo in the present day, frantically trying to find a cure for the cancer that is killing his wife, Izzi (Rachel Weisz); and as Tomas, a 16th Century Spanish Conquistador charged by Queen Isabel (Weisz again) to find the Tree of Life – each character filled with pain, passion and poignancy. “I’ve never been pushed this far,” he says during the interview in the DVD extras, and you believe him.
But the real star here is Aronofsky, again proving himself to be one of the brightest young talents on the planet following the hypnotic Pi and the emotional assault of Requiem For A Dream. Each time zone in the film parallels the others, often using the same camera set ups and motifs (people moving towards the light), each story reflecting meaning back on its twins, creating one millennium-long battle; a man coming to terms with the inevitability of death. But even if you’re not willing to have a pint in Darren’s Philosophical Steakhouse, you can’t ignore that there’s few directors in the mainstream making films as conceptually or visually bold as this. And to think they were going to have him direct Batman: Year One, which is slyly referenced on the doc...
This edition is, however, sadly missing the chat tracks that illuminated Aronofsky’s previous DVD releases and, if you’re not a Fountainhead, then Weisz and Jackman’s candid (or luvvie-ish) chat will have you going Berserker Rage at your TV. The documentary reveals a director – like its lead character – fighting against powerful elements, working within the tight constraints of his reborn script and halved budget. But while its extraordinary visuals might work best on the big screen, these personal themes might work better alone in your own home, in your own time, where it can float about in your inner space. Because if you’re willing to take that leap into the dark, you’ll find something powerful and profound waiting for you. It’s a little like falling in love.
Now, how’s about that hug, Mr Aronofsky?