I saw an interesting movie over the weekend – ‘interesting’ in this context meaning I’m not quite sure what to make of it.
The movie was The Fountain, an esoteric, ethereal, new-agey kind of movie about death and love and the afterlife. I think. It’s all pretty vague and disjointed, things I might normally turn my nose up at, but in this instance I persisted, curious about where it was heading and what it meant, and sufficiently engaged in the storyline to watch without using the fast forward button.
Where do I start? Well, there’s this Spanish conquistador who heads off to New Spain at the behest of his Queen to find this mythical tree – supposedly the tree of life from Genesis – which supposedly gives eternal life. That’s one story line. In the next there’s this doctor who works in a lab searching for a cure to brain tumours. His wife has a tumour and is near death, which lends his search a desperate edge. Then there is a storyline set in the future perhaps, or perhaps in another, more metaphysical, dimension. In this a man floats heavenwards in a transparent bubble in which a great tree – the tree of life – is growing. His head his shaved, his habits monkish, his mien solemn. As the bubble ascends towards a distant star he scrapes the bark from the tree and puts it in his mouth, much as a churchgoer takes the host. In so doing he takes into himself his dead wife, who makes random, teasing appearances.
In all three storylines the same actors play the male and female leads – Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz. In each they are in love, and the inference is clear that they are the same characters reincarnated into different times.
The movie could be read simply as one man’s mission to save the woman he loves – the Queen first against the Inquisition, and his wife from the tumour killing her. It can be translated then as a paean of love – but that I think is much too simple, and undersells the movie.
There is at its core is a love story. That is central to all that happens. The story is bigger than that though, the love story is the vehicle that carries a broader message. The message, I think, is about the transcendence of life. Here we have the one couple coming together again in different lifetimes. In both storylines there is the desperate search for the tree of life, as if that is the solution to their earthly problems – they find though that the solution is different to what they believe it to be.
I will always be with you is a refrain throughout the movie. This tree is meant to give eternal life – and to cure all ailments. In both storylines this fails to eventuate as anticipated. In the first the conquistador eats from the tree and finds his wounds cured – and then from his body blossoming lush flowers, like Mayan myth. He never returns to his Queen. In the second storyline this tree is shown to contain within its bark the cure to the disease killing his wife, only for it to be discovered too late.
Eternal life is not physical then, it is spiritual: the transcendance from one state to another. Death is the beginning of rebirth. We go on, as the movie puts to us, living forever in the hearts and minds of those who love us; and forever part of the cycle, forever evolving to a higher state. Ultimately I think that is what the movie is about, the acceptance of death as a reality in the knowledge that it is not the end.