'It's the Sanctity of Life'
In Darren Aronofsky's ambitious, unusual science fiction film The Fountain (opening Friday), a husband must come to terms with his wife's mortality. As Tom watches Izzy suffer the debilitating effects of a growing brain tumor, he leads a frantic scientific endeavor to find a cure. But she responds differently, chronicling her feelings in a historical novel about the queen of Spain.
Both their daily reality and the novel reflect humankind's longing for the Tree of Life, the source of eternal life described in Genesis. And their varying responses reveal humankind's tendency to respond to death in fear and panic, rather than seeking a spiritual path to peace.
For Aronofsky, the project was deeply personal, a passion that led him to multiple attempts to get the film made. But he made it, and cast his own true love—Rachel Weisz—in the role of Izzy, opposite Hugh Jackman as Tom. The project is unique in its depiction of a passionate marriage and a spiritual struggle. And it reveals an artist who is deeply dismayed at the direction the world is going, and who wants us to come to a deeper understanding of the ties that bind us, and our responsibility to the world we've been given.
Some filmmakers portray marriage as bondage, but The Fountain shows us an admirable marriage. Tom and Izzy are really in love, they're faithful, and they support each other through hard times.
DarrenAronofsky: We definitely have gotten disconnected from what a relationship between two people can mean. That's because of all the temptations that are out there. Everything's a little all out of whack. But, The Fountain, to me, is a very, very romantic film. Romantic with a big capital "R."
It's about two people who love each other deeply, and yet a terrible thing is happening to one of them—or, actually, to both of them—because one is dying at such a tragic young age.
What led you to focus on the mysteries of death so intently?
Aronofsky: I started working on it when I turned thirty. I think when you turn thirty, it's the first time that your mortality comes into any sort of focus. When you're in your twenties, you're still sort of carefree. When you turn thirty, there's something about that number. You suddenly realize, one day I will be forty-five, and one day I will be seventy-five.
At the same time, both of my parents faced a fight with cancer. They were diagnosed within a month of each other, with different cancers. To suddenly be their caretaker in a certain way, and to be concerned about losing them, it really shook me up a bit. They've both been healthy now, for three or four years.
Both Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz had to perform some intense, emotional scenes, as Izzy and Tom deal with her brain tumor. How did they prepare for that?
Aronofsky: Rachel did a lot of research. She went to a lot of hospices, met people who were dying at a tragically young age, and talked to a lot of doctors. I think it got to her in a way that she didn't necessarily share with me. That's part of her [acting] process. I think she was really thinking about what Izzy was going through, and that's a heavy place for a healthy young woman to go.
What did Rachel, and the rest of you, learn from that research?
Aronofsky: When Rachel, Hugh, and I started to go out and meet young people who were dying, we talked to some of their doctors and caregivers. And what we found was just mind-blowing. A lot of these caregivers told us that they had started to have a spiritual [experience]. Death was happening in front of them, and they started to change.