The brilliant Darren Aronofsky‘s The Fountain is a masterpiece film in magical realism that has romance seeping from its every crevice. The movie is metaphorical and about love spanning centuries with its roots in metaphysics and spiritualism. If you watch the multi-layered film in the right state of mind, it might even help you overcome your fear of mortality. It’s one of those films where you require multiple viewings to make your own sense of the bizarre concepts. This article will go through the story and dive into the film’s essential themes. Here’s the plot and ending of the movie The Fountain explained; spoilers ahead.
Here are links to the key aspects of the movie:
The Fountain: Plot Explained
The film is mainly about the romance between the leads. It stars Hugh Jackman, who plays the roles of Tomas, the Spanish conquistador, Tom Creo, the surgeon and the space traveler. Rachel Weisz captures the other main lead by playing the characters of Queen Isabella of Spain and Izzy Creo, the present-day author. It is divided into three iterations that often seem like three different periods, but they are all loosely connected and are represented by visual motifs. The mind-bending cinematography and soul-wrenching soundtrack are applaudable, as is the performance by the two actors.
Present Day: Doctor
Tom Creo is the scientist with the weight of the world on his shoulders as he attempts to find a cure for degenerative brain diseases by experimenting on monkeys with tumors. Tom’s desperate attempts to find a miracle cure are fueled by his wife’s worsening health due to a brain tumor.
Unlike her husband, Izzy has found acceptance of her impending death as she wrote a book she named The Fountain, the story of Queen Isabella and her conquistador. She asks Tom to finish the last chapter of her book. In denial, Tom continues to experiment, using the bark of a tree found in Guatemala. The experiments show remarkable synaptic growth and age-reversing effects, but the tumor doesn’t shrink. Desperation creeps in as Izzy’s health worsens, and Tom continues to fight with everyone in his lab, even experiencing a breakdown when he loses his wedding ring.
On her deathbed, Izzy tells him the story of her Mayan guide, who, in denial of his father’s death, planted a seed on his grave, which grew into a beautiful tree. The moment Tom’s superior informs him that the tumor in the monkey is shrinking as a result of the experiment is the moment that Izzy draws her final breath. Grief-stricken, Tom experiences a psychotic break where he etches a wedding band made of ink by piercing his skin using the fountain pen given to him by Izzy. He returns to work and vows to find the secret to immortality as he believes “death is a disease”.
Conquistador & Queen Isabella
The historically inaccurate tale is about Tomas, loyally bound to Spain, and Queen Isabella, who is losing her kingdom to the Inquisitor. As a last attempt at survival, she grants Tomas a quest to retrieve life-giving sap from the Tree of Life, based in the Mayan region of New Spain, using a ceremonial dagger. She bestows upon him a ring with the promise to become “his Eve” and that they will live together forever.
During the quest, Tomas faces hardship and loses most of his crew due to a failed coup. Upon reaching the footsteps of the hidden Mayan temple, he gets attacked by Mayan warriors who force him to climb the pyramid alone. Once he gets to the top and enters the temple, he is met by the leader priest, who stabs him. Tomas is replaced by a vision of the space traveler whom the Mayan priest acknowledges to be the First Father and offers his life as a sacrifice.
Tomas kills him and proceeds to find the ever-blooming and sky-reaching Tree of Life. After the sap heals his wound, he gulps it down but soon, he keels over with pain. Horrified, Tomas watches as flowers and grass grow in the injury. He desperately tries to rip them out but fails; he dies, and his body gives way to new life.
In a glass dome biosphere, Tommy, a space traveler tends to a tree, its bark responding to his touch. Little by little, he eats the tree’s bark to survive and performs tai chi. He has tattoos of rings on his arms and a black band made of ink on his ring finger. He is frequently visited by an apparition of Izzy but appears annoyed by it.
The camera weaves in and out, intertwined with scenes from the present day and the 16th century. As the biosphere floats up towards the central part of Xibalba’s nebula, an apparition of Izzy in her hospital bed appears while simultaneously, the tree is dying. He comforts the tree and tells it that soon, Xibalba will die, and when it explodes, it will result in the rebirth of the tree, and he will also live.
As Izzy dies in the present day, so does the tree in the biosphere. The man, angry and devastated, cries out in pain. Later, he traces his tattoos and ring mark as he reminisces how the tree was his constant through the years and pulled him through time.
As his biosphere rises and reaches near Xibalba, Izzy appears to him once more. Tormented, he screams asking to be left alone and admits that he’s afraid. Queen Isabella replaces Izzy and asks him to deliver Spain from bondage. Tommy expresses he does not know how to, but the Queen/Izzy apparition assures him that he does and he will. In fervent admission to Izzy’s and Queen Isabella’s apparitions, Tommy accepts that he will die. As the apparitions intone that they will be together forever, he repeats it, and peace dawns on his face. He climbs the tree, exits the biosphere in a smaller glass bubble, and nears the dying star. He puts on the wedding ring, and Xibalba goes supernova and creates new life.
The Fountain: Themes: What was it about?
The Fountain’s symbolism is thought-provoking and touches upon mortality being the truth of life.
The film takes messages from Bible regarding the Tree of Life, the Fountain of Youth, Eden, the path to salvation, and transitioning to light from the dark. The movie emphasizes moving from darkness to light in the same way Christianity talks about how being separated from light is to be separated from God.
The movie is rife with references to the Mayan religion, especially in the form of the Tree of Life and Xibalba. Izzy explains that in Mayan mythology, the tree’s root sprouted from the body of the First Father as he sacrificed himself to create new life and earth. His soul were the branches that formed the sky. Xibalba, the nebula, was the First Father’s head that was hung in the heavens by his children and became the Mayan underworld, Xibalba. Izzy hinted at an immortal life after death where the couple will be together once Xibalba explodes and gives birth to new life. However, the film appears to create its own origin story around Xibalba.
Hinduism and Buddhist references
Aspects of Hinduism and Buddhism also find their way into The Fountain, as the film highlights the journey toward light. We see the space traveler assume the lotus position and chant incantations as he meditates; his survival hinges on consuming only the bark of the tree.
Man’s obsession with finding immortality and conquering death is the movie’s central idea. Except for Izzy, all other characters frantically search for a way to beat death. As Aronofsky remarked, mortality is the thing that makes humans (and life in general) special.
The Fountain Ending Explained: Overcoming Fear of Death
The ending of The Fountain drives home the point that the secret to living a fulfilling life is to accept mortality. Even though Tomas dies, he is immortalized as his body becomes a part of the Tree of Life. The space traveler’s peace with the idea of death occurs when he discerns that it is what will allow him to be together with the love of his life forever. Tommy’s realization and acceptance of death come at the end when he places a seed on top of Izzy’s grave and says goodbye.
The movie Fountain is heavily influenced by new-age beliefs and ties them in with other religious beliefs. It consists of sudden switches between scenes and moments of blinding lights, which are essential to the plot transitions. The Fountain is one of the movies that attempted to integrate many out-of-the-world ideas into 96 minutes and somewhat succeeded.
Many viewers perceive time travel in it, but that has not been explicitly made clear. It is more likely that the story of Tomas and Queen Isabella were the chapters that Izzy wrote in her book. The story of the space traveler is the last chapter of The Fountain that Tommy wrote as he finished the book as part of his late wife’s final wish. However, as Aronofsky hinted, the film can be interpreted in many ways, so it is up to the audience.
What did you think about the overall storytelling and ending of The Fountain? Do leave your comments below.
Barry is a technologist who helps start-ups build successful products. His love for movies and production has led him to write his well-received film explanation and analysis articles to help everyone appreciate the films better. He’s regularly available for a chat conversation on his website and consults on storyboarding from time to time.
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