Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Fountain

scr. by Darren Aronofsky

A beautiful and (I felt) moving film, this is the first Aronofsky film that I can imagine myself rewatching.

Brief summary: It's a love story told in three time frames (15th century, modern day, and far future) about the search for immortality.

Something strange happened to me while watching this film.


*** SPOILERS ***






The movie begins with a sequence of a Spanish conquistador fighting and struggling to the top of a ziggurat, where he is attacked and apparently killed by a Mayan angel wielding a flaming sword.

Later, after establishing the other two time frames (far future and modern day), it's revealed that this 15th century South American sub-plot is actually a novel written by one of the modern day characters. At which point, we cut back to that sub-plot. And immediately I started wondering "Well, given that I know these people are just fictional characters, do I actually care about them less now?"

... which, after a few seconds, made me go "What the hell am I saying?" Every character in the film is fictional. Every character in every film I've ever watched is fictional. Should I care less about 15th century Hugh Jackman (15cHJ) just because I've had my face rubbed in his ... ah ... 'intra-fictional' nature?

And the answer I had to come to was 'Of course not'. As long as the script is making me care about them, then it doesn't matter what particular degree of unreality a character exhibits. In the case of The Fountain, not only did I enjoy the parallels between all three stories but I forgot that 15cHJ was a character in a story written by a character in a story to such a degree that I was shocked when he met his eventual fate.

It all reminded me of an argument (friendly but intense) that I got into with Sean and Andrew during the post-production stage of hopeless. I'd watched so much of the film's raw footage - actors pissing around on set before the 1st AD yelled action - that sometimes, when I looked at the film just so, the illusion of that it was a story would disappear. All I'd see was the moments we'd specifically selected, the moments where we liked the actor saying this particular line in this particular way.

What this meant, I argued, was that we were actually watching a documentary about things that had happened on set. And our brains were choosing (quite reasonably) to interpret that as a story filled with characters and plot, rather than the inter-spliced moments of reality that they actually were.

In the case of my 'films are actually documentaries' opinion, our brains don't really need to exercise much choice at all to create a story. In the case of The Fountain, I found I needed to make a real initial effort to buy into 15cHJ as a character I could care about (after all, if he's just a story, who cares if he lives or dies, right?).

There's something connecting those two points, but I can't quite see it at the moment.
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