Would you like to see an intelligent, well-acted, emotionally moving, exquisitely filmed and brilliantly realized metaphysical film? You would? Well, then I want to highly recommend Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain.
Writer-Drirector Aronofsky offers us a sumptuous feast of amazingly beautiful images as well as a transformative message that is much needed in our culture. Forget what the critics have said about this movie. They just don't understand it. This review will not take away from your enjoyment of the movie. I hope it will deepen it.
The archetypal background of the story is the transformation of the warrior archetype. The movie leads us to understand that warriors have to stop fighting death, and instead, learn to defend Life.
This metaphysical film not only explores other dimensions of reality but also operates on many dimensions of reality. The Fountain's story is relevant on many levels: it shows us (1) how we individually and collectively can transform our cultural warrior mentality into a search for wisdom through love; (2) how each individual has a mythic story that needs to be explored and understood; (3) how a psychological complex is broken through and transformed; and most importantly, (4) it reminds us how we human beings need to understand and accept Death. It is the awesome story of how a knowledge of the soul 's journey through time can illuminate our current life struggles and bring us to consciousness and an acceptance of life, which includes death. Hence the line in the movie, "Death is the path to awe."
The Fountain takes place -- essentially simultaneously -- in the past, present and future, as well as in the body, mind and spirit of the character, Tommy, interweaving three stories through the lives of a man and a woman.
The story in the past takes place in 16th century Spain which is in the midst of the Inquisition. The Grand Inquisitor flagellates his own flesh as the source of evil and death, and tortures anyone who does not follow his death-dealing beliefs. He is determined to kill the Queen, Isabella of Spain, who is intent on finding the Tree of Life, which she believes is hidden in the jungles of South America. She sends Tomas, a conquistador, to find The Tree of Life and bring it back to save Spain. And to become her true lover. She gives him a ring that he will be able to wear once he accomplishes his task of finding the Tree of Life, thereby uniting them forever in Love. The Ring symbolizes their unity, as well as the inner unity of body, mind and spirit.
In the present-day scenario, Tommy is a scientist who is desperately seeking a cure for the cancer killing his wife Izzi, who has almost finished writing a book called The Fountain about Queen Isabella and Tomas. Tommy struggles with his wife's coming death by spending most of her last days of life in a laboratory experimenting on chimps to find a cure for her cancer. By not really dealing with Izzi's immanent death, he misses out on her life. By doing what he thinks is right, he does the wrong thing. He can't accept the laws of life, and so he decides that death must be just another disease, which he will find a cure for. He is so frantic to save his wife from death that he uses death to fight death. Sound familiar? In one of the very first scenes, Tommy loses his wedding ring. He loses his connection to his wife Izzi, and to his soul, even as he struggles desperately to save her.
The future is the 26th century, where Tom floats in a bubble-like spacecraft towards Xibalba, the golden nebula wrapped around a dying star that Izzi had shown Tommy in their previous lifetime, when she shared her wonder and delight at the Maya's ability to pick a dying star as the source of rebirth. Tom no longer has his wedding ring, but instead has tattooed a ring on his finger, along with circles on his arms, like the rings of a tree. He is trying to become the Tree of Life himself. While he floats through time and space, he tries to understand his past lives and especially his beloved's whispered words, "Finish it." This is the task she has set him. Is it to finish his search for the literal Tree in South America, or to finish his experiments and save her life, or to finish the book she leaves for him to finish, or is it truly to finish the task she originally set him: to find the Fountain of Immortality. In this future lifetime, Tom is becoming a spiritual warrior, meditating on his behavior in dealing with those other lifetimes. Until he attains the wisdom from the Tree of Life, all three lifetimes hang in the balance. The turning point of greater consciousness comes when he finally listens to Izzi's request to come for a walk with her instead of working on finding a cure for her disease. He makes a different choice, and that makes all the difference in all the lives.
These lovers are united through time and space to work out a problem – "what is eternal life?" Isabella/Izzie represents the Soul, the archetypal Feminine which symbolizes life itself – just as all the ancient Goddesses represent life. The character of Tomas/Tommy/Tom represents our Western, masculine, rational, warrior ego-consciousness, as well as our individual relationship to life, and therefore to death. The story shows us that the Feminine Soul is in jeopardy; if the masculine consciousness of the Warrior/Scientist/King does not listen to Her demands, there will be no immortality.
The mythic element of the story explains the journey and the task. To find eternal life. The myth of the sacred King, the one who is willing to lay down his life for the greater good, is found all over the world. The Tree of Life is symbolic of eternal life, as well as the Great Mother, and yet in the myths, it is the sacrificial death of the god/king/warrior/ego that brings us eternal life. The mythic Tree of Life grows out of the body of the sacrificed god. It is the story of Osiris, Dionysus, Christ, Mithras and the Mayan creator god, Gukumatz. Out of his body, the earth grows. The myths state it clearly – out of death comes new life. And yet we doubt it and so fear death. Our fear of death creates more death. What is acknowledged in the myth is that life demands the acceptance of the Earth's natural laws, which includes the part of the cycle of life that brings death. Unless we accept death, we will never find rebirth.
The Queen symbolizes the soulful aspects of life. She seeks the Tree of Life to offset the cruel and unnatural tortures that the Church, which demonizes the body and the Earth plane, brings to her land. The archetypal Queen's power lays in life, just as the Feminine Spirit is the Incarnated Spirit – the life of the body and the Earth, the feeling and intuitive side of life. As Isabella, she must see the bigger picture to bring life to her country and stop the unnatural death that the Church's Inquisition has brought there. They bring terror with death, for they see death as only damnation and burning in Hell. This is our Western unconscious belief about death. The Queen, however, knows what is needed to restore balance to the land - the love of life here on the Earth. For it is in the physical body that we experience and learn about love. In the contemporary story, it is only after Izzi's initial fear of death is overcome that she makes her peace with life. But her husband Tommy cannot overcome his fear and accept death as a natural part of life. Psychologically, it is often the masculine element of life that wants to hold on – it can become a holdfast. But it is also the masculine element that strives for the answers, and finally, it is the masculine ego that must eventually die, as exemplified in the myth of the death of the son/lover. Tommy doesn't give Izzi what she asks for. He thinks he knows what is called for in the face of death – to discover a cure for her cancer. She, however, just wants him to be there for her – to live life with her, until her death. In the future life, Izzi becomes the archetypal muse for Tom, the source of his meditation and the inspiration for his transformation. Hence we have a symbol of the triple Goddess – life, death, and rebirth.
It is the Goddess of Life (which includes Death) that sends her son/lover/hero on the quest for new life. Queen Isabella knows that her purpose is to defend life in the midst of this unnatural death, and sends the warrior Tomas to the New World to find the Tree of Life. Tomas succeeds in finding the secret pyramid guarding the Tree, only to be confronted by a Mayan high priest, who is also a warrior of the god (a bit like the Spanish Grand Inquisitor, they have both disfigured their bodies in sacrifice to their gods). Tomas must get past this Guardian at the gates to achieve his quest for eternal life.
It is the Warrior who must achieve the Quest. But the Warrior archetype needs to be transformed by greater consciousness through time. The Conqueror/Conquistador becomes the Scientist/Explorer – the body and mind united. But it is only with the added dimension of the Spirit that the Warrior can fulfill the Quest. The Warrior must sacrifice himself to renew the land. And it is up to the man to transform his consciousness. The woman has already done so because of her intimate connection with Life.
Tomas/Tommy/Tom represents our individual ego's relationship to life – and therefore to death. This man Tomas/Tommy (perhaps named for Jesus' twin, Thomas, in Gnostic belief) represents Everyman, our cultural masculine ego consciousness that needs to be transformed. Tommy's trinity of lives is lived out on the cross of matter: on the horizontal axis of shared humanity as past, present, and future; on the vertical axis as his individual need for the unity of his body, mind, and spirit. This axis or Cross or Tree is the Eternal Now, when everything happens in eternal time, all at once. Western culture is faced with a paradox – is time linear, or does it circle around, or does it spiral? Or is it something else entirely.
Psychologically, Tommy represents the heroic ego, while Izzi represents the soul. Symbolically, he represents the warrior mindset of our culture, while Izzi represents the love and ideals that uplift the warrior archetype, for Venus/Love is always coupled with Mars/War. Love is the only way to guide and ultimately tame the warrior spirit.
When Izzi dies, life and love and feelings freeze up like winter snows. It is only when Tommy integrates the inner truth of feminine consciousness – that life contains death, and love contains loss – that he can find new life. Western culture and religions have cut off life from death, and so we fear death instead of welcoming it as a creative act of life.
Death is imaged in Nature as winter, and yet we have the sure knowledge that spring will come again and life will return. The old form is really the seed of the future. The death of an old form gives way to a new form. This film wants to make Death our adviser, as don Juan would say. It wants us to see death as a creative act of awesome dimensions, because when we take death as our adviser, we live life fully and deeply.
It is an archetypal truth that the Ego must die to the call of the Self, just as the ancient King died so that the greater life of his people could go on. It is this mystery – that life is served by the death of the old form – that is explored in The Fountain. And it is a mystery that our culture must look at and understand if we are to get through these troubling times. For as a culture, we are called upon to let our old values die - the values of the Warrior, of Christianity and of Capitalism - so that new values can give birth to new life for our planet.
Death of the ego, death of our power, death of a worn-out vision, death of our fear – which is why we need the courage of a warrior, the mind of an explorer, and the imagination of a mystic. The death of an old, outworn belief system, the death of a culture of fear. We have to work it out in our individual lives (and many people are in the midst of learning this, which makes the movie so relevant), but even more importantly, we have to work it out as a society. It is time for the military-industrial complex to sacrifice itself for the life of our planet. We need to change how we do things.
Each and every one of us must go on this quest. The feminine spirit, which is capable of great love and even greater wisdom, can lead our masculine side to give up our old life – to accept the sacrifice that things will be different, that we can live differently, both individually and collectively. The movie The Secret speaks to what this change will be like, but The Fountain speaks to the process of getting there – the transformational process of setting ourselves the task of understanding, loving and accepting our lives, just as they are. And letting go of what is no longer life-giving. Then each death can become a creative act.
This film gives us a multi-dimensional vision that anyone who is on a spiritual path will feel immediately. The film itself operates on many levels – engaging our attention on all those levels at once. So it feeds the entire Self. What other film has done that in recent years?