The Fountain and Noah are, in some ways, companion pieces. Director Darren Aronofsky‘s 2006 sci-fi mini epic is a movie about facing death. Its character must accept the singular rule of the universe: everyone dies. Noah focuses on the one man who has to allow almost everyone to perish, but like The Fountain, it still deals with a man accepting his destiny, no mattew how dire it may seem. Some claim Aronofsky’s latest will divide audiences and critics, but it likely won’t match the polarized response The Fountain received, a movie that was downright hated by some.
To this day that remains a shame because it’s Aronofsky’s most emotional, complex, and rewarding film. The main problem with Aronofsky’s films in general is that, no matter how good they may be, they’re pretty surface-level dramas. Black Swan, as fun as it is, spells out its themes again and again, never leaving room for much interpretation. The Fountain does that too, but what it says sticks with you in a way his other films don’t. With Aronofsky’s other efforts you get the same film you saw on first viewing, but that’s not the case with The Fountain.
Aronfosky’s commentary for the film validates this belief. He doesn’t breakdown what it all means, but instead chooses to focus on the making-of and the kind of details that make his film grow richer on repeat viewings.
The Fountain (2007)
Commentator: Darren Aronofsky (writer-direct0r)
1. Warner Bros. didn’t want an audio commentary for the DVD, for reasons that go unexplained. Due to the lack of enthusiasm, Aronofsky recorded one by himself and put it out online for fans.
2. The film took “six or seven years” to make, but that long period of time trying to get a movie made isn’t new to Aronofsky. As he said, making a movie about God and math in black-and-white doesn’t exactly excite financiers.
3. Aronofsky felt science-fiction had been hijacked by technology and flying cars. He was more interested in psychedelic sci-fi when it came to The Fountain.
4. The shot of future Tom flipping back in his spaceship took four to five years for Aronofsky to perfect. Needless to say, he’s quite proud of it.
5. Aronofsky offered Hugh Jackman the three parts after seeing him in “The Boy from Oz” on Broadway. It was Jackman who recommended Rachel Weisz.
6. They photographed chemical reactions through a microscope for the elements that surround Tom’s ship. Aronofsky wanted to avoid relying on CGI, so he mostly stuck to practical effects.
7. The original script only featured the past and the future.
8. Lillian Gizzeti’s name was inspired by Aronofsky’s grandmother and teacher.
9. Aronofsky saw Tom as a vampire, a character in the shadows.
10. They did take after take of the scene with Izzie in the bathtub. That scene, and the rest of the movie, could’ve been cut so many different ways because of the variety of emotions Jackman and Weisz gave Aronofsky.
11. The spinning shot of the car racing by the camera is connected to the earlier shot of Tom floating by in his space bubble and the later shot of Thomas on his horse. It’s one of the many examples, whether through camerawork or lighting, that Aronofsky connected the past, present, and future.
12. All the science in Tom’s work is based in truth.
13. Aronofsky wrote the character Searle specifically for actor Cliff Curtis.
14. The crew was encouraged to shave their heads to play the monks, because they couldn’t afford enough extras.
15. The idea of the tree of life protected by the Mayans was one of the earliest ideas for the project.
16. The film was shot as a three dimensional “crucifix.” They wanted to create structure in a three dimensional space.
17. An actual neurosurgeon was originally cast in the role of Dr. Alan Lipper, but when he showed up on set he froze and couldn’t act. He was quickly replaced.
18. Aronfosky’s father had a cameo. He also appeared in Pi and Requiem for a Dream.
19. There was an improvised scene between Ellen Burstyn and Weisz that didn’t make the final film. You see a glimpse of it when Tommy comes to the hospital and sees Dr. Lillian Guzetti and Izzie speaking with each other. Ultimately Aronofsky cut it because he wanted to keep the film from Tommy’s perspective.
20. Weisz did the scene where Izzie tells Tommy about how Moses’ father grew into a tree all in one take. “That’s acting, ladies and gentleman,” praised Aronfosky.
21. The shot of the hairs on the tree that raises from Tom’s touch was accomplished by static electricity. Once again, no CGI necessary.
22. The old man in the hospital bed who looks to Tommy is a very personal scene for Aronofsky.
23. The hardest scene to edit was when Tommy walks off during the funeral. Aronofsky was going to cut the “death is a disease” moment, but then he saw how important it was for the film.
24. They realized early on Hugh Jackman is a better stuntmen than most stuntmen.
25. The shot of Tom in zero gravity was accomplished with Jackman shot underwater.
27. The way cinematographer Matty Libatique lit the tree of life wasn’t what Aronofsky expected. Libatique shot it very realistically, which was quite different from how the actual set looked.
28. They made a giant puppet of Jackman’s body for the scene where flowers grow from Thomas’s body.
29. The final film ended up pretty much as written. Since The Fountain could be cut together many different ways, Aronfosky hopes to one day make another version.
Best in Commentary
“Those are all real wounds on Stephen McHattie. He’s that type of actor.”
“All three characters in all three time periods have an inspiration moment.”
“It’s rare you see a man cry on film, especially a man cry over love. It’s a shame that type of sentimentality isn’t represented in film. I think it turns some people off. A lot of women told me they had never seen a man cry like that before and didn’t know how to handle it.”
“I’m getting lost in the action and adventure here. Hold on a second…”
The Fountain is a major work of passion. It’s not like we need Aronofsky to tell us why that is, but he does an adequate job explaining how much The Fountain means to him. Admittedly, there are times where it’s easy to clock out of Aronfosky’s commentary. There’s repetition, silences, and at one point even Aronofsky said, “I’m still here.” When the commentary drags it’s easy to get lost in the movie instead, like Aronofsky often did. This very anecdotal commentary is still worth a listen, though. While it may have benefited from having another participant, diehard fans of The Fountain should hear it if they haven’t already.