Lowered Expectations

I know they can’t all be winners, but some of our Toronto film fest picks have been major letdowns. First up, The Fountain, the much anticipated film from director Darren Aronofsky – his first since Requiem For a Dream. I was hyped for this movie as his last two have had such an impact on me.

When we saw Requiem on a big screen I was sweating by the end, the images were so powerful. The quick-cut scenes of heroin use have since been copied by advertising and parodied in The Simpsons. And Pi made me feel like my head had been turned inside out – I thought and talked about the patterns in the numbers for days. It was a secular religious experience. So admittedly, The Fountain had a high bar to clear.

To my disappointment, Aronofsky limboed under it, barely breaking a sweat. The Fountain follows Hugh Jackman over three time periods and characters – a Spanish conquistador, a cutting-edge medical researcher and a 26th century astronaut (according to the synopsis, but I don’t agree) – all searching for immortality in some fashion. It’s a sprawling narrative, beautifully shot, but somehow cold and uninvolving. The tale of the doctor trying to save his wife from cancer had its emotional moments, but the so-called astronaut floating through space in a snow globe while communing with a dead tree and apparitions of his past lives added nothing. A lot of style, but unfortunately lacking an equal amount of substance.

As an aside, there was no Q&A after the screening, which took place at the Ryerson Theatre – in fact nobody from the film showed up, despite Aronofsky and stars Rachel Weisz and Ellen Burstyn being in town for it’s premiere at the Elgin. Last weekend TIFF programmer Jesse Wente said Q&As for films that debut at the Elgin, which doesn’t allow them, would happen at their second showing. It didn’t, so we still hate the Elgin.

Following The Fountain, we headed over to the Paramount for another anticipated film on our list, Invisible Waves. In 2003 we saw Thai director Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s Last Life In the Universe, a surreal tale of an obsessive-compulsive, suicidal Japanese man hiding out in Bangkok with a free-spirited Thai woman. It was quirky and fun and a favourite from that year. An almost existential black comedy about a low level gangster who isn’t aware that his days are numbered, it was too slowly paced, with too little action. No Q&A for this one either.

Again, not a bad film, but not what I had been hoping for. I suppose they can’t all be winners.


  1. I saw the Fountain in Toronto and i loved it, Judging by your review, you did not understand it.

  2. Just because I didn't like it doesn't mean I didn't understand it. You can't truely live without death, time and space are interconnected - I got the themes. Negative reviews can't be dismissed with a shrug and a "You didn't get it."

  3. I loved Pi and Requiem.... I must say that your review has me a bit worried. Our tastes are similar and I tend to agree with your views on movies more often than not. And it's not like others' reactions to The Fountain have been positive. Right now I am hoping for the best, but it seems possible that Aronofsky may have produced his first misfire.

  4. I'm treding a difficult line here - I didn't hate the movie, so much as it didn't live up to the high expectations his previous work have created. I don't know that he misfired (I don't understand why it was booed at the Venice film fest) but I certainly found it to be a lesser work. Perhaps with you own expectations lowered you'll enjoy it much more than I did.

  5. I'm starting to get the feeling The Fountain is going to be a bit disappointing but I'm still excited to see it. At the very least, I'm looking forward to a beautiful movie.