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IN SEARCH OF FOREVER TIME-TRAVELING LOVE STORY, ARONOFSKY'S `THE FOUNTAIN' OVERFLOWS ONTO SCREEN.

Byline: Glenn Whipp Film Writer

When Darren Aronofsky's time-time travel philosophical romance ``The Fountain'' screened at the Venice Film Festival in September, many audience members loudly booed when the credits rolled.

The negative reaction upset supporters of the film, who began cheering and clapping. What happened next, says the film's male lead, Hugh Jackman, is a movie-going rarity -- a fistfight.

``For a filmmaker, that's probably the Holy Grail,'' Jackman says, chuckling. ``I guess with a Darren Aronofsky movie, we should expect nothing less. The man invites divisiveness.''

Well, yes, Aronofsky's first two movies -- the audacious, abrasive ``Pi'' and the bleak drug downer ``Requiem for a Dream'' -- established him as a filmmaker you either love or loathe, a maker of visionary cinema or unwatchable exercises in intellectual hollowness.

With ``The Fountain,'' the scales may be tipping in the wrong direction for Aronofsky. Critical support after film festival screenings in Venice, Deauville and Toronto has been in short supply. For reviewers, incoherence seems to be Aronofsky's biggest sin, followed closely by pretentiousness.

Yet, even as many see the movie as the cinematic equivalent of a Deepak Chopra fever dream, the one scene in ``The Fountain'' that is played over and over again has nothing to do with death or the afterlife or Mayan temples. It involves a wife inviting her husband for a walk in the snow.

Follow closely: ``The Fountain'' has three stories revolving around a man trying to save the woman he loves. In the modern segment, scientist Tommy (Jackman) tries to find a cure for the cancer that is killing his cherished wife, Izzy (Rachel Weisz). Izzy has accepted her death and, to bring her closer to her husband, she is writing a book about a 16th-century conquistador Tomas (Jackman) looking for the Fountain of Youth to help his beloved queen (Weisz).

Izzy purposely doesn't write the last chapter; she wants Tommy to finish the story.

Flash forward 500 years and Tommy is traveling through space in a bubble, a dying Tree of Life at his side, looking to become reborn and one with the universe.

But Tommy might have saved himself the trouble if he had only accepted Izzy's invitation and taken that winter walk back when he had a chance.

`` `Come take a walk with me' ... for me, that's the crux of the movie,'' Aronofsky says. ``We've all had those moments when you can actually take time and experience life or you can be projecting into the future and not be in the present. Tommy makes his decision, and he regrets it for 500 years.''

Real-life scenario

That's why Weisz -- who is engaged to Aronofsky and mother to their 5-month-old son, Henry -- is able to ignore the movie's philosophical underpinnings and accurately enough call ``The Fountain'' a ``big, tragic love story.''

``To me, it's a real celebration about love and the meaning of life and the importance of doing the simple things that connect us with each other,'' Weisz says. ``What could be more simple than a walk in the snow with your husband? It's the stuff of life.''

Weisz reports that, yes, Aronofsky enjoys taking walks with her (no matter the season) and is also more prone to watching ``The Price Is Right'' than staying up late, drinking wine and pondering the meaning of life. (``He's very upset that Bob Barker is retiring,'' Weisz reports.)

Simple pleasures

Talking to the unassuming Aronofsky only confirms Weisz's regular-guy description. If he is upset about the negative reaction to a movie he has spent several years fighting to make (he lost financing in 2002 after Brad Pitt bailed), Aronofsky is holding his emotions in check, his Ordinary Joe cadences (the guy sounds just like Ray Romano) becoming enlivened only when talking about his love for late-

period Johnny Cash or the joys of living out of a knapsack.

``Look, in the first 50 pages of a sci-fi novel, you don't know what's going on," Aronofsky says. "Suddenly some clues come in and the world comes more and more into focus. It's the same with the movie. You're adrift for the first 20 minutes and you either go with it or you don't. It's a puzzle, and some people don't like puzzles. But it does make sense. The solution is right there.''

Says Jackman: ``I didn't fully get it when I read the script the first time. But I got the same feeling I have after I meditate.'' He pauses, considering. ``Maybe if more people meditated before they saw the movie, you wouldn't have the fistfights. Just a thought ...''

Glenn Whipp, (818) 713-3672

glenn.whipp@dailynews.com

The naked truth about sex

Enough about philosophy.

Let's talk about sex.

Namely, what it was like for Hugh Jackman to simulate bathtub lovemaking with Rachel Weisz with Weisz's fiance, director Darren Aronofsky, filming the whole thing while sitting on an apple crate four feet away.

Jackman: ``We're kissing and kissing and kissing and finally she takes my shirt off because it was ridiculous how long we had been kissing.

``So the shirt comes off and we kissed some more and groped and groped and finally I hear Darren -- mind you, he's practically on top of us with a camera -- say, `Take his pants off.' At that point, Rachel and I both started laughing because it was such an odd situation.''

Aronofsky yelled, ``Cut!'' and asked Weisz why she wasn't following instructions: i.e. removing Jackman's pants.

Weisz: ``Because I was shy! And I was naked! And, yes, Darren being there contributed to the strangeness of it. Don't get me wrong. Hugh made it very easy to allow me to lose myself in the scene, but when Darren kept pushing it further, I couldn't help but feel a bit awkward. But I think the characters' connection comes across even if Hugh's pants stay on.''

-- G.W.

Jackman's brief guide to the dual nature of `The Fountain'

Because of the head-scratching, brain-bending nature of ``The Fountain,'' we offer the following reader service courtesy of the ever-helpful star of the film, Hugh Jackman:

``It's about duality. I think Darren provides a big clue at the beginning with that quote from the Bible, how man is cast out of the Garden of Eden because he ate from the Tree of Knowledge. And God placed the sword with fire -- fire being truth -- to guard the Tree of Life.

``And the truth is, there is no duality. We are all essentially different forms of the same thing. But from the moment of eating that apple from the Tree of Knowledge, we saw ourselves as separate.

``We see the future and past, pain and pleasure, man and woman, death and life, love and hate. But there is no difference. There's just one essential truth.

``Without eating from that Tree of Knowledge, you'd see God everywhere. Now it's been eaten of, and we live in this life, this world of duality. That's the Garden of Eden, however you want to disseminate that myth.

``And what Rachel's character is saying is, `I'm dying, but it's OK. I'm always there.' That's the truth. Everything else is, as they say in Indian philosophy, just this wonderful show.''

-- G.W.

CAPTION(S):

2 photos, 2 boxes

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) Timeless love

Aronofsky's `Fountain' moves through the troubled waters of life, death and unending passion

(2) no caption (``The Fountain'')

Box:

(1) The naked truth about sex (see text)

(2) Jackman's brief guide to the dual nature of `The Fountain' (see text)

Box:
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 24, 2006
Words:1249
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