Monday, July 21, 2008

The Fountain

Continuing my discussion of spiritual lessons I’ve learned from the cinema, I want to share my experience with Darren Aronofsky’s beautiful and profound film. I love the performances, the seamless integration of the three storylines, the music, and the beautiful images. The film more effectively represents romantic love from a man’s perspective than any other film I’ve seen. And it seeks to reconcile seemingly conflicting, but equally important elements of life: male and female, life and death, future and past, reason and faith, the sciences and the arts. Though, I think the most important lesson that it is helping me learn is how suffering may be used as a source of spiritual growth.

The film’s main character Tom struggles to find the Tree of Life to save his dying wife Izzy. Beyond the Old Testament reference, the film is a pretty amazing allegory of man’s mortal experience. Tom struggles, and only when he accepts his struggles does he find transcendence. Izzy teaches him that suffering and death are, potentially, a means of the creation of new life.

This lesson is an important one for me because, despite having been taught that righteous living is accompanied by happiness, I try to do good and still encounter enormous trials. And I think this lesson is important for all disciples of Christ who work hard and pray for blessings but still must learn to endure to the end. I am learning, like Tom, that although we may not experience relief from our sufferings, as we endure our trials with patience, humility and hope, we are developing Christ-like attributes. And that is a blessing in itself.

11 comments:

Adam K. K. Figueira said...

Benjamin,

You make me want to see this film.

I love the concept that man's mortal purpose is tied to his finding of the fountain of youth, which I see as a great symbol of the tree of life. I was in a Gospel Doctrine lesson a few years ago when a question was asked about whether Adam and Eve's banishment from the tree of life was just. There was general confusion among the class about how that fit in with the plan of salvation until someone pointed out that in Lehi's dream, the iron rod symbolized the way back to that tree. I always thought that was generally understood in the Church. I'd like to see this theme discussed more often.

Trevor said...

Benjamin,

I haven't seen the film, and a recommendation from you means a lot. I was mostly unwilling from my previous experiences with Aronofsky's work. Requiem was an experience I'll never forget, but so loud I couldn't feel anything outside the film. Pi was so overhyped that I was really disappointed when I finally got around to it. I had written The Fountain off as more star-studded cg flair. I'm really glad you challenged that hasty disregard. (I should disclose that I do consider Aronofsky an artist, albeit one with different sensibilities than my own, and that was one deciding feature why I decided to go to AFI).

I'm really excited about the distinction you make about a man's perspective. Do Demy's romances fit in this category for you?

also, its pretty exciting to think of The Fountain read in terms of Lehi's dream.

Bryan said...

I saw this film about a year ago with great anticipation. I'd not sampled Aronovsky's work before, though I was familiar with the acclaim surrounding "Requiem" and "Pi." I had a pretty good feeling for what I was in for, but I think my expectations were a bit too high (something on the order of "2001" or "The New World," two of my all-time favorites), so I came away somewhat disappointed. I think the nonlinear storytelling approach was taken to such an extreme that it got in the way of the film's message. It's visually spectacular, though (not a single shot incorporated CGI, IIRC), and Weisz and Jackman give great performances.

There continues to be a lot of discussion about this film in Internet forums, and those who enjoy it are generally quite enthusiastic about it. I may have to give it a second chance, even if in the end (like "Citizen Kane") I end up respecting it more than loving it.

Adam K. K. Figueira said...

Benjamin,

I watched this film today and...wow. I find it difficult, if not impossible, to watch a film without drawing some spiritual lesson from it, but... Wow!

It's been a while since I left a film feeling so quietly inspired and uplifted. It brought a peace to my heart that allowed me to look at my own life with new eyes.

I'll forbear from too much detail on what it meant to me - I haven't had time to get past anything other than initial impressions - but thank you so much for this recommendation.

Benjamin Thevenin said...

Adam, I'm glad you enjoyed it, and I think you're onto something applying viewing the film with Lehi's dream in mind.
Trevor, I've only seen pieces of Umbrellas of Cherbourg and Young Girls of Rochefort (even though Em and I have tried multiple times to see them), so I don't know about Demy. I do enjoy Wong Kar Wai's treatment of the subject in In the Mood for Love, Chungking Expresss and (to a certain extent) My Blueberry Nights. (I haven't seen Happy Together, but that may also be interesting to consider).

Trevor said...

We just watched Happy Together... Can't say that its anything like I expected. I'm amazed at how I have differing tolerance levels for different subject matter, but it's really difficult for me to stomach Homosexuality on film.

I have more close friends who are openly or not so openly gay than I could count, but seeing it on screen is difficult for me. That's one thing I'm lucky never to have struggled with, but it's really uncomfortable to see homo-romantic relationships for me. So Happy Together was difficult. David Bordwell had an interesting post a while back about it, though.

In the Mood for Love would fall into that category for me (mature and from a male perspective). Though we also identify with Maggie Chueng (and isn't she absolutely amazing!? I still haven't see Stanley Kwan's film with her, but her two films with Assayas and Yimou were absolutely dazzling). I'm tempted to think from what I've read that Story of Late Chrysanthemums would fall in this category as well, but it may take a female perspective. (I haven't seen a decent copy, just a wretched VHS copy with one subtitle for every six lines of dialogue).

And you're right not to include 2046. I don't think its after love... or even romance.

I do think you and Emily would both like those two Demy films. I still haven't seen Lola or Slightly pregnant man or the donkey film. Though I'd like to.

The big problem I see is that most 'Love' films are about courtship, which has little to do with Love, in my opinion. Love really starts further down the road. Even if it's about a married couple, its usually about the break-up and reunion, which is just an extension of courtship.

But how do you make that a movie?

Benjamin Thevenin said...

Actually Em and I are working on a script now that tries to talk about love (among other things). I'll email you some stuff sometime soon.

And I absolutely understand your difficulty with Happy Together. Even though Wong is amazing, I don't know that I could feel comfortable watching it.

milo said...

I loved this film, it made me fall in love with cinema all over again.

Joseph Thorin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joseph Thorin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joseph Thorin said...

Benjamin,

This movie is what I consider to be my favorite film of all time. I think your description of the film's relevant Gospel messages is spot on.

For me, each time I watch the film I am drawn deeper and deeper into the rich symbolism that is found in the lighting, the shapes, and even the dialogue itself. There are so many layers of truth in this movie that it sort of boggles my mind.

As an overall theme, I feel Arnofsky has hit the spiritual nail on the head concerning the point of all ancient temple ceremonies (I believe he said he had studied them in preparing for the film), that each of us, male and female, must grapple with the most "terrible" of questions: is this life all there is? And then we through Christ realize the "continuation of lives" that can be ours through the Atonement. Anciently this drama involved Adam and Eve passing through this "veil of tears," to eventually overcome death, and yet each of us must walk the same steps.

In the movie, Tom (and his allegorical personalities) highlight the steep road that each of us must someday summit as we strive to see beyond death as a wall, and see the beautiful gate that leads to more life. That marriage and love can surpass the limits of death and mortality are sublime messages that, for me, give the film its sweetest connection to the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.