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The title of this beautifully realized but deeply silly sci-fi parable refers to the Fountain of Youth, the idea of which serves different functions in three interlocking stories. Writer-director Darren Aronofsky’s previous film, Requiem for a Dream, was a comic tragedy of heroin and amphetamine addiction. This one seems to have been fueled by massive intake of LSD, or perhaps nitrous oxide. The movie opens with a close-up of a hand that’s writing—important, that—the verse from Exodus in which Adam and Eve are barred re-entry to the Garden of Eden by a flaming sword. Time (or myth) marches on, and Spanish conquistador Tomas (Hugh Jackman) enters a Mayan temple hidden in the jungle, where he faces a priest brandishing a flaming sword. Cut to the future, where a bald, monkish fellow (Jackman again) floats in Zen calm. Finally, the main story is revealed: Tommy (yes, Jackman) is a brain-tumor researcher with the powerful motivation that his beloved Izzi (Rachel Weisz) is dying of a brain tumor. He has an epiphany while doing surgery on an ape and decides to use an extract from a tree in Guatemala. This links to Tomas’ earlier quest, at the behest of Queen Isabella (Weisz, of course), to search Central America for a substance that will endow eternal life. And to the future, where the meditating baldie gets entangled with a symbolic tree. Some, and perhaps all, of this tale is actually the novel Izzi is writing, and which Tommy may have to finish if she dies. Yet another echo (intentional or otherwise) of the work of Alain Resnais, The Fountain is strongly reminiscent of that innovative French director’s Je T’aime, Je T’aime, which also involves death and time travel; the notion that some or all of the events may be an on-screen author’s invention also suggests Resnais’ Providence and Life Is a Bed of Roses. But where Resnais’ investigations are illuminated by wit and grace, Aronofsky’s tale is ponderous and humorless. Impressive production design aside, the three episodes barely add up to a single movie, and the moral—conveniently delivered as the film’s final sentence—just underscores what a long, shallow trip The Fountain’s been.

—Mark Jenkins