Aronofsky, Alan, and the Fear of Death: David’s Response to The Fountain

The light right now, outside the bus window is perfectly golden. My copy of Everything is Illuminated just arrived and yeah, I saw the movie first.

I missed the Fountain at the theatre. I had intended to see it simply to take in its visual effect but I have to say, I really regret it now that I’ve seen the movie. There is much more to take in than simply the sight of it. It’s been a few weeks and I’m still thinking about it, so suffice it to say, I really liked it. My good friend Alan, over at randomtope, didn’t care for it but I think my expectations were a lot lower (which might explain why every movie I paid to see at the theatre this summer was a real letdown).

The theme in the Fountain that I connected with is the same theme that acted as a capstone for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: that of death and our extreme fear of it. In both narratives, the fear of death is the primary motivator for villain or protagonist (I’m not here to discuss Harry Potter so if you’re trying to avoid spoilers, don’t worry). I’ve been thinking a lot about the fear of death and why it can motivate us with such force, particularly when we’re not aware that it is the feeling in the driver seat.

My recent birthday filled me with a particular sadness and in trying to examine it, I found it associated with having gotten older without accomplishing certain goals, particularly that of finishing my novel and seeing it in print. At the bottom of it all was the fear of death. It is inevitable, unavoidable, but few of us can face with it with any measure of nobility of grace. The character of Izzie in the Fountain managed to do that. Her husband’s inability to accept such a thing and the heroic efforts he put forth to avoid it, are the source of the movie’s plot.

At the Fountain’s core it is an old tale: Enkidu’s death stirred Gilgamesh on a similar quest at the dawn of written literature. The biblical tree of life (nicely tied in to the Fountain) symbolizes our frustration with our inevitable end and how no way to stave it off is within our reach. Gilgamesh was told his quest for immortality was an overreach of human ego and he was robbed of the prize he journeyed so hard to find.

In fantasy, our characters cheat death. Sometimes they return from it, fulfilling a crucial component of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey or Plato’s actualization of the Philosopher-King. But even these characters must face the descent into death and a key element of their triumph is how well they handle themselves. Perhaps one of the reasons I like comic books is that they are a suspension of this cycle: characters die, sometimes repeatedly, but it just doesn’t stick. They return, just as Campbell’s hero must come back to enlighten the world or Plato’s Philosopher-King might return to the cave in an attempt to free others. In all of these cases, even comic books, the characters grow and change. Their brush with death has enlightened them, toughened them, scarred and given them knowledge.

I liked the Fountain and recommend it to you. Just don’t tell Alan.

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