Saturday, September 15, 2007

Matt Withers Commentary on "The Fountain" Is Dead Wrong

[This post will not make much sense unless you've seen The Fountain. Sorry about that. Spoilers ahead, so beware.]

Roger Ebert recently wrote a review of Darron Aronofsky's wonderful film, "The Fountain," and published a commentary by Joblo's Matt Withers. A few paragraphs into the commentary and I already knew that I would vehemently disagree with this man. Withers writes:

Given that Tomas is a fictional character in the universe of the film, we must now turn our attention to both present day Tom (Tom 1), and Spaceman Tom (Tom 2). It is made clear that both these men are in some fashion the same man. While the evidence could take up pages to list, it is enough to recognize that they have the same name, the same tattoo of a wedding band on their ring finger, and the same memories of Izzy. While it may seem tricky to establish if Tom 2 is actually Tom 1, somehow still alive 500 years in the future, or some other fiction, fear not for the answer is actually quite simple.

Tom 2's journey is clearly the final chapter of Izzy's book, the chapter she asked Tom 1 to finish for her as she lay on her deathbed. In it we find the Spaceman transporting the Tree that seems to contain the spirit of both his beloved Izzy and Queen Isabella to a dying nebula. In Tom 2's journey lie all the elements we would expect a grieving husband, a man who is a scientist not a writer, to present when finishing a story he did not start. It is his love letter to his dead wife.
Withers goes on to describe why Tom 2 is different than Tom 1 but completely ignores all the evidence that indicates they are the same person. They have the same markings, including the mark on Tom's finger, although Withers does give this lip service. More importantly, Tom 2 has been hearing Lizzy asking him to "Finish It" throughout the whole movie, an indication that he has not yet finished writing the last chapter in her book (Withers thinks he has, and that he IS the last chapter, which makes even less sense than the explanation I am positing).

The point of the movie is that Tom 1 (who is the same person as Tom 2) is in a constant struggle against death. This is evident in the way he fights to save Lizzy's life. He lacks an acceptance of her death even as she has already come to one. His endless pursuit of continuing life and his inability to finish the story only comes to an end hundreds of years later in the depths of space.

The most epic stories we've ever been told in our lives are those of (literally) insane love, of intense stubbornness that can only be sated by tremendous, far-reaching acts. The battle of Troy was launched over one woman. Romeo and Juliet made the ultimate sacrifice, their lives, for their love. And Tommy from "The Fountain" took a spaceship bubble into the depths of space in a dramatic attempt at thwarting death.

Tom 2's appearance in the old Spanish conquistador story at the end of the movie indicates that he is now writing the story, and his ending concludes with the conquistador not living forever, but dying and contributing to the circle of life, which coincides with Tom 2's fate as well, whose involvement with the exploding star redistributes his biological material throughout the galaxy. In the end, he finishes the story (we hear an imagined Tom whispering to Lizzy, "I finished it")...and we SAW how he finished it too.

Aronofsky has made clear his intentions that the movie was meant to be a science fiction epic. If Tom 2 was merely imagined, that would subvert the entire reality of the movie. Furthermore, interviews with Aronofsky and Weisz (who are married), in which they expound on the cyclical nature of life and death, reveal this interpretation to be accurate.

All told, although I'm sure Withers is a great guy and apparently a very good writer, he's dead wrong on this interpretation and it's unfortunate that Ebert would defer to this single perspective as the correct one. My emotional attachment and appreciation for the film compelled me to briefly try and explain why I feel this way.


Good Sir Blamface said...

I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one who feels that Withers's analysis of The Fountain was way off the mark. I wrote my own response here:

I basically hit the same points you did.

Rei Enrique said...

Tom (future) Is the representation of the books ending chapter, Tommy (present) wrote the books ending, ending it with him being "ok" (well not ok but working on the situation) with his wifes death (Tom [future] dies giving the tree life [a presentation of Izzy] a representation of his wife dying and or by that matter Tomas [past] dying for Spain [a representation of Izzy]). The movie is about Tommy (present) dealing with his wife death, we know that the conquistador story is from his wife's book and in the movie she says "it started in Spain but it ends up there" pointing out the nebula, keeping that in mind when she dies her husband Tommy [present] writes the ending with Tom [future] traveling through space getting to the dying nebula. You also wrote about the painted wring on his finger, the painted ring was added by Tommy [present] to represent the fulfillment of the promise that she would always be with him in the book Tom [future] (present version [tommy] paints the wring on his finger to always remember her in death) experiences it by being with her always by death (in this part of the movie it is shown that Tomas [past] and Tom [future] are the same person and that the queen is the representation of Izzy showing the viewer when Tommy [present] is planting the tree on his wifes grave that the nebula is going through the super nova (it would be impossible for future Tom to be the same person as present Tommy for the events and time lines going on in the movie Tom [future] is the ending chapter of the book where he uses parts of his life to integrate the story from past, present and future.