Friday, August 10, 2007

Quiet as understanding, deafening as realization


The Fountain, starring Hugh Jackman and Rachel Wiesz and directed by Wiesz's intended, Darren Aronofsky, received almost universally bad reviews.

"It's pretty," my friends would tell me, "but it's boring and the plot is convoluted."

"Pretentious," wrote film critics.

So a year later, my brother gives me the DVD and I watch it.

Blame it on the low expectations, but I was glued to the screen. I enjoyed every minute of it. There's eye candy and then there's an eye feast. This movie isn't really a movie with a story or a plot--it has one, for structural purposes, and I can even say I like the story--rather, it's a painting. Or like a painting. (And aren't movies "moving pictures"?)

Maybe it's because I enjoy Romantic and Symbolist art that I enjoyed this movie. I don't mind a loose plot, like I don't mind art that isn't realistic. I like images infused with ideas and emotions, and that's what defines this film: ideas of life and death, attachment and liberation; the emotions of grief and longing, acceptance and peace. The scenes are in chiaroscuro, the rich palette of Earth and autumn, and eventually, the soft brilliance of light-capturing Impressionism.

It's a beautiful film with a beautiful soundtrack: an experience. If you've hesitated on seeing it, don't lower your expectations, change them. Use the eyes you'd use if you were in a museum, or a church, or a temple--there are narratives in pictures in all those places of worship and ritual (a "museum" is a "temple to the muses"), but again, the narratives (logical and linear) often play second fiddle to what the images can do.

Art, in these overstimulated times, may appear like a passive, inactive thing--hanging on the wall or waiting on a computer server somewhere out in cyberspace. It's not. At least, not what I aim to create and what inspires me.

Art can be a key or a stick of dynamite. It's a human-engineered epiphany fuse. You use it to unlock something inside you, or to blow yourself wide open.

Why would you want to do such a thing?
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