Monday, November 27

The Fountain, or how to misunderstand a medium.

Film, as I see it, is capable of delivering some of the most amazing and praiseworthy art the creative mind can produce. Not only that, but unlike most mediums, it's highly attractive and readily accessible to the masses, presenting a sort of ideal condition for an artist striving for excellence while also desiring to reach a broad, fully representative audience.

Unfortunately, this idealistic view of what the medium is capable of can sometimes bring about displeasing results. Such is the case with Darren Aronofsky's latest, The Fountain.

The Fountain has been compared to 2001: A Space Odyssey for it's equally maddening and ambiguous staging of whatever it is their respective directors where trying to imply, and, at first glance, seems a plausible enough analogy. Both movies seem to stand beyond description and force the viewer to interpret more, digest less, of what's presented before them. Both movies are incredibly austere when it comes to delivering the storytelling we would otherwise expect. Both appear to be decipherable only under a different, dazed state of mind.

So where does one become a masterpiece, and the other, a painfully expensive mistake?

Unlike The Fountain, Kubrick's movie came not out of merely himself. Expanding on Arthur C. Clarke's "The Sentinel", both minds worked simultaneously on 2001: A Space Odyssey as both a screenplay and a novel. Taking the ideas of a man as established as Isaac Asimov himself and expanding on them, Kubrick's exercise in storytelling abstraction had the benefit of a strong philosophical foundation. The Fountain lacks this all too important advantage.

I have not bothered trying to interpret The Fountain. Why should I? Aronofsky may be a genius filmmaker, but I'm not so sure I want to obsess over his absurdly presented philosophical musings. A conclusion that ultimately means I have little to no desire to work at making the connections a disjointed film such as this requires, and which leaves me with no choice but to take it all on face-value. A disastrous outcome for this type of film, and this film in particular.

If you're going to deny me the simpler pleasures of storytelling, whilst giving me no motivation to decipher whatever else you've presented before me, then I'm just not going to care.

Aronofsky just missed the point. However much he believed in his ideas, he made a terrible choice of medium. Abstraction works fine on a painting or photograph, which are relatively cheap to produce and cost nothing to appreciate to anybody but their potential owners. Films are costly ventures, and he had no right pursuing this material as a film. Perhaps as a book, where a more selective demographic would have been prepared to put the necessary effort into his ideas.

As it stands, it is likely that unsuspecting individuals might stumble upon this film only to feel robbed, bored, or just plain disappointed. Imagine a kid oblivious to everything but the attractive poster committing ten dollars to this movie. Then imagine the same kid picking up this story as a book. One is immensely more likely than the other, and having seen this film with a crowd either asleep, displeased or restless to leave, I deem his choice of medium a tragic and irresponsible oversight, and the film, ultimately, a failure.

1 comment:

Michael Sooriyakumaran said...

So who's misunderstanding the medium? Aronofsky, who seems to have a firm grasp of montage (I esspecially love the way he cuts from the hairs on the tree to the hairs on the back of Rachel Weisz's neck, creating a sense that all three stories are happening simultaneously), or the person who believes that film is inherently a mass medium? The reason film is generally regarded as a mass medium has more to do with commerce (the cost of making films) than the inherent properties of the medium itself.

Nor do I think a film must tell a story. As Peter Greenaway likes to say, "If you want to tell stories, be a novelist."

As for "The Fountain," I don't find it that difficult. It's actually pretty simple. It's not a film for everyone, but so what? I still liked it.