Producing chaos until the cows come home – The mutable matter of ‘The Fountain’

Last night, I felt like watching a film, and the guy from the video rental (who knows me very well) suggested ‘The Fountain’. I had never heard of the film before, and afterwards, I was quite angry with myself that I had not paid attention to the cinema news and thus had missed it on the big screen! Why? Because a lot of the imagery in the film really sucks you in and wants you to immerse yourself in it at a scale as large as possible – maybe even that of a dying star!

After watching the film, I found that a lot of reviewers on the net either totally loved or hated the film. The ‘haters’ thought it was boring, pretentious, repetitive, lacking a story, lacking coherence, lacking conflict (lacking conflict??). The ‘lovers’ praised the cinematography, the acting, the ‘depth’ of Aronofsky’s questions, the boldness of his project and the way it made them think about life and death. As the Amazon reviewer Jeremy Williams ingeniously put it: ‘Aronofsky has created a remarkable thing in my opinion – a life affirming film about mortality.’ To me, the film felt like a future theatre piece based on a classical music piece: the overture introduces the themes, these themes are then explored and interwoven, and finally, they are united once more in an overpowering grand finale. Thankfully, the musical score was not as full-on as in Requiem for a Dream, after which I needed a several years long recovery phase until I could listen to ‘that’ theme again. Although I can understand the viewers who thought the film was too blatant or simplistic in its message, I have to say I really enjoyed watching the film. I am not normally patient with films and have to confess that I often fast forward what I consider ‘unnecessary’ passages, but this film even seduced me into watching the ‘extra features’.

One of the most interesting revelations of these features was the creation of the dying star and the ‘tree of life’ space ship. I love the amount of detail that was put into evoking the main character’s life on this ‘ship’ and his interactions with the tree and his ‘organic’ environment (e.g. the mushroom cultivation scene and the ink making). I take my hat off (I’m actually wearing one!) to the people who thought this up and actually made all these props and made them come alive! The ‘dying star’ cinematography was equally impressive and was extensively written about in Steve Silberman’s article in Wired magazine. I loved his phrase ‘to reinvent space organically’, which referred to the efforts of Peter Parks, a photographer who specialises in artfully enlarging microscopically small things. According to Silberman, ‘Parks can make a dash of curry powder cascading toward the lens look like an onslaught of flaming meteorites’. Parks himself comments: ‘When these images are projected on a big screen, you feel like you’re looking at infinity. That’s because the same forces at work in the water – gravitational effects, settlement, refractive indices – are happening in outer space.’ Create your own cosmic spectacle in a Petri dish – brilliant!

I also love Parks’ comment on CGI: ‘The CGI guys have ultimate control over everything they do. They can repeat shots over and over and get everything to end up exactly where they want it. But they’re forever seeking the ability to randomize, so that they’re not limited by their imaginations. I’m incapable of faithfully repeating anything, but I can go on producing chaos until the cows come home.’ Cows and chaos united in one sentence – fantastic!!
Apparently, doing Petri dish imagery has caught on as an art form. If you fancy a more psychedelic variant, please look here. Otherwise check out ‘The Fountain’ or Peter Parks’ slightly larger dishes. Or go about making your own universe!t

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