Saturday, December 02, 2006

Ruminations on The Fountain (spoilerific)

If you haven't seen the movie, don't read this post. I'm serious. Go see the movie first. Love it or hate it, you owe it to yourself to go into the theater uncontaminated.


I don't think that it is impossible for an intelligent, reasonable person to dislike this movie. That's not some kind of lame "Everyone's entitled to their own opinion" bullshit either. I've never liked that expression, or agreed with it. If it means everyone can think what they want to, sure, that's obvious. Until we have mind control (beyond TV and Nike ads, I mean), everyone will anyway. If it means everyone is free to voice their indefensible views in public without being upbraded for being a moron, then no, I strenuously disagree. But anyway, I don't expect everyone to like this movie. Not everyone likes chocolate or pizza, either.

(Of course, you like or dislike foods based on taste, not reason. I've never met anyone who had a well-reasoned dislike of chocolate; you like it or not on the basis of incrutable preferences that are not produced by or subject to logic. I think most people's taste in music and movies works the same way, most of the time. It's probably possible to have a well-reasoned dislike of polka or Meg Ryan movies, but I think that most people dislike them simply because they're yucky.)

All that said, I do think the movie functions as an IQ test for critics. I have read one or two negative reviews by people who paid attention and understood what was going on and still found that the movie was not to their tastes. That's cool. That's expected. But I've read many more reviews that betray a breathtaking amount of intellectual laziness or basic stupidity. If you're a professional movie critic and your whole case for not liking the movie is that it doesn't fit neatly into a recognized genre, you need to hang up your spurs and go shovel out calf sheds for a while. Thomas says, "Death is a disease" and Izzi says, "Death is the road to awe." On that basis, one critic complained that the movie is inconsistent. Evidently this lackwit has been weaned on so much cinematic pap that he can't deal with a movie in which characters express contradictory points of view. And anyway, isn't the point of the movie that Thomas--"My conquistador. Always conquering."--has to come to terms with death as a necessary, even beautiful, part of life? I'm not saying that's an easy message to hear, or that you have to agree with it right away. But I don't see how you can fail to at least understand it as a meaningful proposition. And if you are never able to agree with it, you will end up like Tom Creo, alone in his spaceship after 500 years of denial.

Oh, holy shit. The spaceship. One common thread among almost all of the negative reviews is that people can't figure out that the bubble is a spaceship. It's a work of artifice, moving purposefully through space. What's not clear about that? So it's got a forcefield for a hull and no obvious controls. It's weird, but its identity is not murky at all. The future story arc would be severely compromised if the tree was growing in the cargo hold of the Millennium Falcon.

"...instead of going and doing the same old thing of putting trucks in space--which is what people have done … Every rocket ship is just a really souped up, pimped up car in space. You know, hey, let’s get a spherical ship. Why not?"


I just saw the movie for the second time, and I'm glad I did. I was a little worried about whether I would still be blown away, or if it would seem obvious or draggy the second time around. It didn't. In fact, it was even more moving the second time because I wasn't trying to solve the movie so I could concentrate on the emotional storylines and the connections between stories. I missed a lot the first time.

I am very, very glad that the stories in all three times are presented on screen as being equally real. A lesser director might have presented one or more of the stories as being obviously metafictional, a fictional story within the story, and that would have ruined the movie. Is Tomas just a character in Izzi's book? Is he an aspect of Tom's soul? Is he a real person fighting real battles? The genius of the movie is that it doesn't force you to choose one interpretation and eliminate the others; the best you get from the movie are hints. The same applies to Tom in his spaceship.

This brings up something odd about suspension of disbelief.

When we were walking out of the theater after seeing The Usual Suspects for the first time, one of my friends complained that the whole story was made up by Keyser Soze. He felt cheated because the story he'd seen on screen wasn't real. At first, this struck me as an odd complaint. Evidently it is okay to go watch a movie and know that what you are seeing on screen is an elaborate fiction, because you are able to suspend disbelief and treat the fiction as real. But if at the end of the movie you find out that the the story is fictional even to the characters in the movie, that's somehow bad. Why? You knew the story was fiction in the first place. Who cares what layer of fiction it is, as long as you enjoyed the story?

But now I think, it is bad to have a story revealed to be a metafiction. Well, not bad necessarily, but I can see why people don't like it. Because it brings your suspension of disbelief to a grinding halt. It's like being slapped in the face with your gullibility. And it's a kind of theft. You go to the theater, you invest in a storyline, and then you find out that the story you invested in isn't even a real fake story, it's a fake fake story. The filmmaker may be doing that to you intentionally, to get you to confront the illogic of your own attitudes toward stories. But I still think it's kind of a punk move. Irreverent, at least. Because it seems to imply that we should be suspicious of stories, that we should be careful not to invest in them. And I think that's a lousy message.

At this point Richard Dawkins appeared to me in a fiery vision and accused me of not wanting to unravel the rainbow. I said, "I don't believe in you. I don't believe in you," and *POOF* he disappeared.

Anyway, I thought it was an odd complaint about The Usual Suspects coming from this (ex)friend in particular, because he could not go see a movie without spending half an hour afterwards pointing out all the ways that it was unrealistic. He even did this for movies he purported to like. What an insufferable buttmunch!

Getting back to The Fountain, the reason that not presenting any of the storylines as fake fake is genius is because it allows you to invest in all of them, and be affected by them. If you were told up front that Tomas is just a metafictional character, why would you care what happens to him? You don't even find out that he might be a character until about a third of the way through the movie. By that point, you're already hooked. And even when the framing of the story makes it seem that he probably is a metafictional character, it's easy to forget. Genius.

Well, there are tons more things to write about, but for now my time is up. See you again soon.

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Blogger 220mya said...

So, approximately 2 years and 2 months after you wrote this review, I finally got around to seeing the movie. Not that I have any excuse - I wanted to see the movie when it was in theaters!

Anyhow, I thought it was a beautiful film - very well done. Your analysis is spot on.

Maybe I can catch Aronofsky's newest movie (The Wrestler) before it drops out of theaters.

11:59 PM  

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