February 09, 2007

Maya mythology in The Fountain

'The Fountain'The story begins in the 1500s, or seems to. Tomás (Hugh Jackman), a bellowing Spanish conquistador, is hacking his way through the Guatemalan jungle with his men when they are suddenly ambushed by Maya warriors. The fleeing soldiers are swiftly dispatched, but Tomás is taken to a temple, to be killed specially by the flaming sword of a warrior priest, just a few feet from the tree of life. The sword comes down, and Tomás, suddenly beardless and Gandhi-bald, floats up before the warrior in a bubble, calmly seated in the lotus position, and shoots off into space.

What is going on? You may as well ask. In as much as it's about anything, "The Fountain" is about the many myths cultures have around the idea of eternal life. For the Spaniards, it was a fountain. For the Mayas, it was a tree.
The Fountain (2006)"The Fountain" is a Russian nesting doll of symbolism and unlocking each piece reveals the true depth of Aronofsky's vision. Few works since "The Waste Land" have worked so thoroughly to combine Judeo-Christian, Muslim, Kabbalah, Jainism, Buddhist, Hindu, Pagan, Norse and Jungian imagery into a coherent work that's like "The Golden Bough" brought to life.

One of the more complex symbols is The Tree of Life. The tree at once represents the tree that would have granted Adam and Eve everlasting life in the Garden of Eden; the Sephirot diagram that's the cosmology of Kabbalah; the sacred fig tree under which Siddhartha attained enlightenment and became Buddha; the Sidrat al-Muntaha that in Islam marks the end of the seventh heaven; and the Norse Yggdrasil, which Odin hanged himself from in order to achieve wisdom. All of these connect the three incarnations of Thomas to the tree, especially in Tommy's pursuit of knowledge, but the Yggdrasil myth seems to especially be of significance since Tom's tree-filled spacecraft looks like the Nordic interpretation of the world. According to myth the first humans were made from the Yggdrasil, and the tree is tellingly said to protect the last man and woman when the world ends. Most wonderfully of all, the Mayan Tree of Life is the Milky Way, where Xibalba is located and Tom journeys. Just as the Tree of Life connects "The Fountain's" triptych, Mayans used trees to symbolize the connection between the Earth, the sky and the afterlife.
Comment:  I didn't realize The Fountain was so heavily based on the Maya cosmology. If I had, I would've posted more on it when it came out.

But as with Apocalypto, the Maya civilization was gone before the first white man arrived. Apparently filmmakers can't get enough of human sacrifice as a symbolic act.


Anonymous said...

I think the Fountain was voted one of the worst movies of the year. If I remember correctly, it was in theaters only a short time.


Rob said...

I didn't see The Fountain, but I did see Pi. It left me scratching my head and wondering if Aronofsky would learn to tell stories more clearly. In other words, it was interesting but flawed.

Rob said...

I've wanted clarity in storytelling since I began reading, watching TV, and seeing movies almost half a century ago. It has nothing to do with Star Wars. I didn't like the overlong psychedelic ending of 2001 when I saw it in the theater, either.

Unclear storytelling is usually if not always bad. I suppose there are exceptions, and if I think of one, I'll let you know. Pi isn't the exception that proves the rule.

Rob said...

Many paintings would be improved by written texts, or at least by titles. This might make them less "mysterious," but mystery is overrated as a quality in art.

I didn't understand or appreciate a lot of art until I took an art history class in college. After reading experts explain various aspects of the art, it made more sense to me.

More to the point, I could appreciate the art more emotionally as well as intellectually. Generally speaking, the more you understand something, the deeper you feel it.

Anonymous said...

I loved this movie!! It was very deep and finally a break from the norm. I thought it was brilliant!!