Director: Darren Aronofsky
Released: 2006Starring: Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn, Mark Margolis, Stephen McHattie, Fernando Hernandez, Cliff Curtis, Sean Patrick Thomas, Donna Murphy, Ethan Suplee
Plot: Three stories set in the past, present and future which intersect and run parallel to each other, based around the themes of love and morality.
Review: After flirting with mainstream film making with “Requiem for a Dream”, here Aronofsy returned to the arthouse roots which he established with his debut film “Pi”, while it also turned out to be his most troubled production to date, with his original concept having to be scraped when Brad Pitt pulled out over creative differences with Aronofsky combined with a spiralling budget which forced the studio to pull the plug on the production. Refusing to give up on the project, he instead reworked the script and recast the film with Jackman and Weisz taking on the lead roles (both working at reduced rate) which would allow him to work within the new budget of $35 million, a considerable drop from the original $70 million budget which had been assigned to the film.
One of his most personal films it is also the film which tends to divide opinion the most, with most of its detractors choosing to write it off as pretentious nonsense. It is also far from the easiest of films to explain, yet strangely at the same time it is still surprisingly a straightforward film to follow when you see it all on screen which was one the things which surprised me the most about this film the first time I watched it. After all here is a film which switches between Spanish conquistadors searching for the tree of life, a modern day scientist Tom desperately searching for a cure for his cancer-stricken wife and finally a man in the distant future travelling towards the nebula of Xibalba inside a self-contained bio-sphere. Aronfsky though rather than give any real reason for these genre hopping antics, instead wrote it off as being “Because it’s fun” which I’ve a feeling was also Zack Snyder’s reasoning for making “Sucker Punch”.
Even outlining these plots as you can see is confusing enough, even before Aronofsky starts to interweave them over the course of the film which works fine for the past and present segments, with the conquistador sequences taking place in the story which Tom’s wife is writing. Sadly the links to the future segment seem largely more forced and also the more art house moments of the film, as they consist mainly of a bald Jackman sitting around in his bubble, eating bark from the tree in its centre and having conversations with Tom’s wife, though the link between her and this future character is never properly explained and much like the moral of the film is left frustratingly obscure.
To his credit Aronofsky manages to bring something different to each of the segments, from self-flagellating inquisitors, conquistadors battling mayan’s through to Tom pushing his team to explore every more radical procedures in the search for the cure for his wife’s cancer, there is unquestionably a lot of different elements at play which does help to give it a mini-epic feel despite the minimalist timeline. At the same time Aronofsky manages to convincing portray the enduring love between Jackman and Weisz without things getting overly sacturine sweet, especially with the present day scenes which are played with a mixed of tender and frustrated moments as Tom tries desperately to speed up his search for a cure, while trying to make the most of what time he still has left with his wife.
As the two leads both Jackman and Weisz are engaging to watch and convincingly play each of their three alter-ego’s, even if most of the heavy lifting is left to Jackman whose performance here made me wonder how Pitt could ever have managed the range which Jackman achieves here, while ensuring that each of his three alter-egos’s remain strong throughout, even the navel gazing antics of spaceman Tommy, who is saved more by the stunning visual effects than by anything really happening on his particular story thread.
Returning once again to soundtrack the film Clint Mansell teams up with the Kronos Quartet, bringing a sense of familiarity to the films soundtrack especially after their soundtrack for “Requiem for a Dream” burned itself into the general conscious and perfectly suit the tone of the film, while this time they are further complimented by tracks provided by Mogwai with the soundtrack really coming into its own during the more spectacular set pieces like the supernova or human plant transformation.
One of Aronofsky’s weaker films but still well above the mathematical theory nightmare which was “Pi”, while the film only further suffers due to it being more of a personal project than one designed for mass audience consumption. At the same time while it has numerous good ideas and memorable sequences, the composition ultimately is where the film comes undone with too many ideas being thrown around and not enough structure to satisfactorily tie them all together, as Aronofsky prefers to leave it up to audience interpretation than confirm what anything is supposed to actually mean. Yes it might be very pretty to look at, but it is also a film which walks a tight rope between being a mini-epic and pretentious tosh making it really one for the completists than the first time viewer.