06 May 2007

The Fountain

At last ... at last ... I've found appropriate time to review The Fountain, the film that we saw last month in posh Paragon Cineplex. (My personal choice would naturally be Apex but this film was at the time on screen in Paragon, weirdly enough!) If there're any wrong details posted here, please blame my busy schedule, my students, my workplace, my dream for a good condo, my dysfunctional family, and my meagre salary, etc., as they drew me away from this blog. :)

Well, what should I say about this film? It's beautiful and philosophical, dwelling upon the themes of death, rebirth, and the meaning of life. Hugh Jackman plays the role of Tomas or Tom Creo and Rachel Weisz the role of Queen Isabel or Izzi Creo. With the parallel universes of the period of Spanish conquistadors and the modern-day science lab, the film makes us think about the meaning of our life. By juxtaposing the Eastern and Western systems of philosophy, the film is able to portray two distinct outlooks towards life and death. While the Western man might wish to find the elixir to extend human longevity, the Eastern counterpart may consider an alternative path, by embracing unavoidable death and considering it as a way forward.

The film seems to foster the second outlook as it points out the nullity of human struggle against death. But what I don't understand is the notion of desire that lies under everything. Tom Creo in the end chooses death so that he can live with his wife Izzi forever; desire is thus the main reason that drives him to find a way to overcome human limits. However, if we look deeply into Eastern philosophy, especially Buddhism, desire is something obnoxious and needs to be eradicated. If Tom Creo truly understands the Eastern philosophy, he should reach the point whereby the desire for Izzi no longer counts. To overcome human limits means to surpass human desire. The concept of nirvana in Buddhism is therefore usually portrayed as the state of nothingness -- no me, no you, no identity.

I've been pondering why such a conflict happens. It perhaps has something to do with form. The Fountain is basically a romance, a genre that entails the love between two people and that its ending promises the unity of the two. The elements of longing, desire, and fulfillment that belie this genre is thus in deep contrast to its philosophical messages. Perhaps Eastern religion is not essentially a romance as there's this sense of ultimate restraint from desire, emotion, and all sorts of sensibility, which are trademarks of the genre of romance.

PS. Some might say Mayan religion is not Eastern. But postcolonialism taught me that this film uses the categorisation of the West and the Rest. If Spain and the modern-day US are the West, the Mayan is naturally the Rest (i.e. the East, which is probably everywhere but Western European and North America). Believe me -- it's so obvious. Oh, by the way Tom's surname -- Creo-- is the Spanish word for 'I believe'. Hope this helps with your interpretation.

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