Like a dramatization of turgid love poetry, The Fountain finds Hugh Jackman playing multiple devoted lovers across time: a conquistador seeking the fountain of youth for his queen, a workaholic racing to research a cure for his wife’s cancer, and a cueball-bald cosmic traveler ministering to a mystical tree in his bubble-ship. Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream) directs the three alternating, interconnected stories with an irony-free ambition and intensity that rivals M. Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water. Cosmology and chivalric impulses bang up against each other, but the melodramas between Jackman and Rachel Weisz (as queen and as his pixie-ish dying novelist-wife) consistently soak the metaphysics. At times, the cheesy dialogue, mindless score, and didactic deep-dish symbolism of the three shifting stories evoke nothing less than a multi-level video game.
The space-bubble sequences of the third strand are indeed ethereal, the homemade effects beguiling, but it’s both sublime and ridiculous, one romance too far. And there’s an emptiness to the insistent visual and narrative scheme that shows the common ground between this supposed experiment and Requiem’s literal-minded expressionism. Easy to dismiss out of hand for all the dippy sincerity, the film’s jerky 90-odd minutes may well be the hobbled casualty of the notoriously lengthy production and, one imagines, some desperate hacking. Still, it’s hard not to feel a mite protective of the film’s doggedness, not to the extent of actually proclaiming it good, but to recognize a probable cult item in the making, thanks to the key ingredients of outsized sentimentality and equally unwieldy sci-fi/fantasy premise. Opens November 22