Fountain, The - Darren Aronofsky feature

  • The List
  • 12 January 2007

Waves of mutilation

Miles Fielder looks at the symbiotic nature between Darren Aronofsky’s graphic novel of The Fountain and the film that he finally made.

Speaking to the website Comic Book Resources in May 2005, filmmaker Darren Aronofsky said: ‘I knew it was a hard film to make, and I said if Hollywood fucks me over at least I’ll make a comic book out of it.’ They did, and so he did.

Flashback to 2000, when Aronofsky was awaiting the release of his second film, Requiem for a Dream, and impatient to start writing his next, The Fountain. ‘The 21st century was inching closer and closer and I started to wonder what sci-fi would be like now that we were the future,’ Aronofsky said.

What Aronofsky banged out on his typewriter in his New York apartment was an ambitious fantasy. Set during three different periods in three different millennia, 16th century Spain and Latin America, present day North America and the far flung reaches of space in the 26th century, The Fountain concerned the heroic efforts of a man named Tomas to save his beloved, Izzi. By the time he finished the script Requiem for a Dream was enjoying great critical success. On the back of that, Aronofsky got Warner Brothers to give him $75m to make his third film and secured Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett for the roles.

Then in 2002 everything started to unravel. With $20m already sunk into the production, a 300-strong crew erecting sets in Australia and photography to begin in a matter of weeks, Pitt walked, citing creative differences with Aronofsky. Shortly after that Warners shut down the production.

Aronofsky covered himself by acquiring the rights to publish a graphic novel version of The Fountain based on his script as he was still desperate to get the story into the public domain. He got Vertigo Comics interested and they introduced Aronofsky to artist Kent Williams, whose painted art impressed the filmmaker. Aronofsky handed over his script and gave Williams free reign to interpret the story visually. In the end Williams has taken the bones of Aronofsky’s script and created a dialogue-light but visually rich book that makes use of the storytelling tools of the medium.

Via this collaborative effort Aronofsky found renewed inspiration in the project and, in 2004, he got a second attempt at filming The Fountain, this time working with half the original budget, a scaled down script and a new cast headed by Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz. What’s really interesting, however, is the relationship between the original script, the book and the finished film. In visual terms the film resembles the book, which is based on the original script, and that, according to Aronofsky, is quite different from the rewritten one. This suggests Williams’ illustrations have contributed to the visual styling of the film and thus his work connects the unmade and completed films in a very real way.

‘Little did I know then that my team and I would spend most of our 30s battling Hollywood to get The Fountain made,’ Aronofsky writes in the film’s production notes. ‘The hurdles were endless. Many times they shattered our will and shook our souls. But I believe that the experience - the pain, the struggle, the passion - somehow made it into the final print.’

The Fountain is out now published by Vertigo/Titan.

Read review of the movie version of The Fountain