The Fountain

The first time I saw the Fountain I was blown away. It's a very complicated movie, overflowing with ambition and ideas. Amongst other things, it's about the difficulty humans have grasping the necessity of death; it's about the interplay between real life, religious fables and outright fantasy; it's about how we understand our present by grappling with our past and trying to imagine our future. It's a love story that takes place in a science lab, in Spain during the Inquisition and in a dying star cluster.

When I rewatched the Fountain I had a very different experience. The film opens with a quote from Genesis, because after Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge one of their punishments was that God hid the tree of life from them, and the Fountain is about a man on a quest to find the cure for death. He's driving himself mad in an effort to find out the answers that men have always looked for - how to avoid your own mortality or at least how to live with the unbearable grief that comes after someone you love dies. But as I was watching it I kept checking out of the movie to think about the symbolic pairing of the tree of life and the tree of knowledge and about how that is kind of what I'm doing with the cat vs Kirk game, just writ much larger.

I understand if that sounds asinine, because what I'm doing here is obviously an entertaining gimmick, and that's a long way away from the cosmic themes that come from the book of Genesis. But at the same time, it's getting at something that I've been thinking about more and more as I get older, because I've spent my life pursuing knowledge and now I'm wondering if there's more to life than that. On some basic level this site is me trying to put my interaction with culture into perspective, and to ask if there's not something more satisfying about a simple pleasure such as an animal might indulge in or if I always need to be trying to think the big thoughts and asking the big questions. Having this game on my mind as I went into the movie changed how I experienced it, because I was more conscious of the downside of watching a heavy film about mortality on a sunny Sunday afternoon than I used to be.

Honestly, during my second viewing the religious parts of the story were engaging and distracting in equal measures, not because the movie does a bad job of handling those parts of the story but because some of the topics it was tangentially touching onto are things that made the movie's message feel a bit self defeating for me. The Fountain is death obsessed, but I'm more interested in the aspects of the tree of life versus the tree of knowledge dichotomy that apply to life, because I'm not looking for meaning in the face of death, I'm looking for a way to spend my remaining time on Earth meaningfully. This husband's attempt to process his wife's death touches on some important things, but as I was watching it I was also thinking about how the question of how I was choosing to spend my free time is important, too.

Obviously this is an idiosyncratic interaction with the Fountain, because there's no real reason for someone else to approach this movie with this same framework in mind. But my unusual take away from the movie should still be able to communicate three points about The Fountain clearly. One, this is a movie with enough going on that if you try to engage it seriously you can find parts of it that speak to the big questions that you think about, regardless of what those questions are. Two, this is the sort of movie that will open up new aspects if you rewatch it. The first time I saw it I was connecting to the parts that were about the nobility of death because at that time I was still thinking about Marcus Aurelius' book the Meditations a lot, but this time I was more connected to the parts that were about my cat. (Well, my cat as a stand in for naivety about death.) And three: give a cat obsessed man enough time and he can make anything about his cat, even a movie about a man trying to cure his dying wife's cancer by meditating on a star cluster.


Winner: Me

The Fountain on IMDB