is a 2006 Speculative Fiction
film written and directed by Darren Aronofsky
and starring Hugh Jackman
and Rachel Weisz
The movie follows Hugh Jackman as the protagonist in three different settings. In The Present Day
Tommy Creo is an oncologist searching for a cure for his wife's brain cancer, and is obsessive in his pursuit
to the point of leaving his wife to deal with her illness on her own most of the time. He stumbles across an extract
from a South American tree that has promising results. Meanwhile, his wife comes to terms with her fate and is trying to finish a book which also happens to be about the second storyline.
In the second storyline, Tomás is a Spanish soldier during the Age of Exploration trying to defend his queen, Isabel, (again played by Weisz) from the Spanish Inquisition
, when she sends him on a quest to South America where he is to find the Tree of Life
In the third storyline, Tom, "the Astronaut," is a bald, monk-like man
in a space bubble containing land and a tree. He is sustaining himself off of an extract of the tree but at the same time is rationing to avoid having the tree die. It seems he believes the tree holds some connection to his wife, who visits him in visions. We learn eventually that he is headed towards a star that his wife told him about in the present day timeline. He tattoos an elaborate pattern up his arm to mark the passage of time
, like tree rings.
In each of the three storylines, he is dedicated to his mission to the neglect of all other things. The relationships between the three storylines are up for debate as there seem to be indirect interactions
between the three versions of Jackman's character that suggest that they might be the same person or that one or two of the characters might be imaginary to the third
The story explores the themes of mortality
and the natural cycle of life as well as the stages of loss
If you're looking for a certain Ayn Rand
book, that's here.
This film provides examples of:
- Adaptation Expansion: Sort of. The story is somewhat easier to follow in the graphic novel adaptation, as it includes a running narration by Tommy that clarifies a few plot points that were merely alluded to in the movie. It also includes scenes of Izzy's spirit visiting Tommy while he's in the spaceship, and a few flashbacks to the early days of their relationship.
- Alliterative Name: Moses Morales, the South American guide that gave Izzi the "Death is the road to awe" speech.
- An Aesop: Accept the inevitability of death, because it merely opens the door to your life being passed on so other living things, and thus life itself, can continue from it.
- Alternate Timeline: The end of the film opens one up, folding the story in on itself in Donnie Darko-like fashion.
- Arc Words: "Together we will live forever," "Death is the road to awe," and "Finish it."
- Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence
- Beard of Sorrow: Tommy the doctor grows stubble of sorrow.
- Beauty Is Never Tarnished: People dying of brain tumors do not look like Rachel Weisz.
- Bittersweet Ending: Izzy dies as does Tommy Creo. However, the story is about them coming to terms with death as an inevitable part of life and Tommy and Izzy both accept this as part of the natural cycle. In Tommy's case, he had been unnaturally extending his life.
- Blessed with Suck: Humans.
- Bluebird of Happiness: Another Aesop.
- Book Ends: Izzy tries to convince Tommy to spend time with her, time he insists he needs for his cancer research (which he performs for her sake but, ironically, draws him away from her.) At the end of the movie, the timeline gives Tommy another chance at this scene, but this time he accepts the invitation and joins her.
- The Book Of The Film: An interesting case. When Aronofsy didn't think the movie would ever get made, he wrote it as a graphic novel and got Vertigo Comics to publish it. The film was eventually greenlit, so the book and the film were published simultaneously. Receiving great acclaim for its art (done by Kent Williams) it was arguably better received than the movie.
- Camera Tricks: See Motif.
- Chiaroscuro: The film's art direction is very chiaroscuro. One wonders what eccentric doctor designed that hospital, with its violet walls, deep blue shadows and silver and gold accents? And all those Moorish screens, golden clouds of star-dust, and pitch black backdrops? One of the most chiaroscuro films ever made; just look at the poster.
- Cool Starship: Tom's bubble-like spaceship. Word of God insists that it is an actual spaceship, and that these don't always have to look like giant trucks in space.
- Chekhov's Gun: Izzy's story about the first man in Mayan Myth. In the end of the film, it's suggested that Tom is the last man and the story about the conquistador Tomas is "about" him. Then he appears in the story to help the conquistador, and is recognized by the Mayan priest as First Father.
- Corrupt Church: The Inquisition, of course.
- Cosmic Plaything: Tomás.
- Crossover Cosmology: Many Buddhist concepts, especially during the Astronaut plot, are intermingled with the decidedly Mayan setting of the Conquistador storyline. The star that Tom is traveling to is even named Xibalba, after the realm of the dead in Mayan myth. And they combine the story of the Mayan First Father (adding in a touch of Pandeism) with the story of Genesis (note the flaming sword bit). The Tree of Life also combines the magical trees and tree beings of Mayan mythology with the Christian story of the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden and the fabled Fountain of Life (hence the name of the film). And yes, the tree itself is The Fountain. Oh, and Aronofsky is a Kabbalist (see π).
- DVD Commentary: A notable case in which Aronofsky recorded his own audio commentary and released it on his website after the studio decided not to include one on the DVD release. The file is no longer accessible on his website but it is available through other means on the Internet...
- Easter Egg: When Tom wipes the snow off the grave at the end, we see his wedding ring on his finger! Suggesting that the last scene really did alter the timeline.
- Eldritch Location: Xibalba. One interpretation is that the conditions present within the nebula as it collapsed in on itself when the star when supernova, may have been what allowed Astronaut!Tom to transcend reality and cross the timelines.
- Fade to White: One of Aronofsky's trademarks, and one he'd already become known for from π and Requiem for a Dream. This film takes it Up to Eleven.
- First Snow: plot point at the beginning and end. "It's the first snow!"
- Fisher King: The Tree of Life's apparent relationship to the health of Izzy / mankind / the world.
- Five Stages of Grief: Tommy goes through these over the course of the film:
- Denial: I'll find a cure and you won't die!
- Anger: This isn't working! *argh*
- Bargaining: (with the hospital staff) I'll just need to run a few more tests!
- Depression: After Izzy dies.
- Acceptance: When he arrives at Xibalba.
- Fountain of Youth : Combined with the Tree of Life and Tree of Wisdom.
- Freudian Trio: The three Toms.
- Id: Tomas
- Ego: Tommy
- Superego: Tom
- Gaia's Vengeance: A subtle example of When Trees Attack.
- Gainax Ending
- Genius Loci: The Tree of Life, which apparently either outlives Earth or is capable of sustaining itself without it (but not forever - everything must die for it to be reborn).
- Go Into the Light: Emphasized. All three Toms experience looking upward into a tunnel of bright light: Tommy the doctor looks up into a skylight filled with snow right before the lights go out, whereupon it cuts to Tom the astronaut looking up into the exploding nebula, whereupon it cuts to Tomas the conquistador looking up into the literal light at the end of the tunnel after ingesting the sap of the Tree of Life, whereupon he dies
- Gorn: The Spanish Inquisition; the Mayan Temple (what can be seen of it).
- Gray and Gray Morality
- Hermit Guru: Future Tom.
- Heroic BSOD: In addition to Tommy's reaction to Izzy's death, if one goes by the "Tommy the MD = Tom the Astronaut" theory, the entire Astronaut persona is essentially a Heroic BSOD for him.
- High Concept: "What if you could live forever... and your lover is dying?"
- Hotter and Sexier: The graphic novel adaptation contains much more nudity and explicitly-shown sex than the film. Tom and Izzy are both naked when they're seen in the spaceship, and there's a sex scene between Tomás and Isabella, as well as a brief flashback to the first time that Tommy and Izzy made love.
- Hungry Jungle
- Ill Girl : Poor Izzy.
- Inelegant Blubbering: Tommy after Izzy's death.
- Ironic Echo: The phrase "together we will live forever" has an ultimate meaning that Tomás certainly did not expect.
- Tommy / Tom reassuring and caressing Izzy and the tree. "You'll make it... We're almost there." They both die before he gets there.
- Last of His Kind: In his quest for immortality, Tom apparently outlives humanity and becomes the Last Man, a fate he certainly did not expect. And the Mayan priest recognizes him as the First Man reincarnated in a story within a story/vision (of the end/rebirth of the world, presumably).
- The Lady's Favour: The ring given Tomas by Queen Isabella of Spain. He frequently clasps it to remind him of her.
- Literal Genie: How the Tree of Life grants immortality. "Together we will live forever."
- Living Macguffin: The Tree of Life.
- Living Relic
- Levitating Lotus Position: Performed by Future Tom near the end.
- Macguffin Escort Mission: Tom's mission to return the Tree of Life to the exploding nebula
from whence it came.
- Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Izzy is awfully chipper for someone with terminal cancer.
- Match Cut: Most of the transitions are match cuts, including a painting of a Mayan temple in Tommy's house.
- May Inca Tec
- Meaningful Echo:
- "We're almost there."
- "You'll make it. I won't let you die."
- "You do. You will."
- "Finish it."
- "Death is the road to awe."
- Meaningful Name: "Creo" is a Spanish homonym for both "I create" and "I believe." St. Thomas is the famous doubter of Christ's resurrection. Isabel is of course the name of Queen Isabella of Spain.
- Tomas, the Id, is a conjugation of "to take" in Spanish. The Id takes what it wants.
- Memento Macguffin: Tommy's wedding ring is the same as the ring given by the Queen to conquistador Tomas, but he takes it off for work and then loses it. Once Izzy passes away, a grief-stricken Tommy takes Izzy's fountain pen and tattoos a "replacement" on his skin. Future Tom has that same tattoo slightly faded, plus a multitude others that show the passage of time. At the end of the film, he plucks it out of the conquistador timeline using his third eye.
- Mind Screw: There are numerous ways of interpreting the relationships between the multiple timelines, and a few recurring plot elements blur the lines between them.
- A relatively straightforward explanation would be that Future Tom is Present Day Tommy several hundred years in the future by way of the mystical life-prolonging plant, the tree in the spaceship formed from the seed that Tommy planted over Izzy's grave, and all scenes with Past Tommy are part of Izzy's book.
- On the other hand, it is equally straightforward to say that Tommy finished the novel with the scenes in space, since by planting the tree he already accepted Izzy's death, though this depends on whether or not you believe Tommy was really at peace during his final scene, since the funeral scene has him insisting that he will refuse to accept death, and this would require him essentially reaching enlightenment in the fraction of seconds between the first and the last scene.
- Then you have present Tommy's wedding ring which Tomas got from Queen Isabella, which future-Tom plucks out of Tomas' hand after Tomas was bodily absorbed by the tree after Tommy lost it down the drain in the present. Once future-Tom attained enlightenment, he could apparently see all possible versions of his own story.
- Future Tom not only bodily intervenes in Izzy's story, he convinces present Tommy (via Mental Time Travel?) to change the present timeline to go for a walk with Iz at the very start of the film instead of staying in the lab, changing the plot. At the very end of the film, Izzy gives Tommy a seed-pod from a tree they visited on this walk (which never happened in the present day timeline), and Tommy plants it over her grave where it grows into a tree — the same kind of tree as the Tree of Life!
- Motif: see also Chiaroscuro.
- The Moorish patterns and screens in Izzy's apartment / the intensive care unit / Isabel's throne room.
- A circular pattern on the floor seen from above in Izzy's hospital bed / Isabel's throne room.
- Tom / Tomas / Tommy looks up and sees a tunnel into a vision of bright light.
- The star field in space / the lanterns in Isabel's throne room / a lights and mirror scene in Tommy's apartment.
- Various patterns and closeups on organic matter, fluid, etc. all look like fractal images of the Deep zoom simulation of the map of the universe showing the intergalactic "void": these were all done intentionally with microphotography. Or else they look like an exploding supernova (Xibalba). Which itself looks like a giant rose.
- The opening image is an extreme close-up on a very large pearl in a crucifix.
- The light shining through the snow in the skylight. Cut to Tom looking up at the supernova.
- The closing credits image is a time-lapse which looks like an expanding universe collapsing into foamy bubbles.
- An unusual shot of each of the three Tom's traveling at high speed towards the camera — upside down — with the camera tilting rightside up to follow him — first on horseback, then by car, then by space bubble.
- Morton's Fork: Future Tom's efforts to keep the tree alive while sustaining himself off it.
- Multiple-Choice Past
- My Greatest Second Chance: See Book Ends, above.
- Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Grand Inquisitor Silecio.
- Never Trust a Trailer: For simplicity's sake, the trailer strongly gives off the impression that the multiple time periods are a straightforward case of reincarnation; in the actual film, it's a bit more complicated than that. Though never explicitly spelled out, it's strongly hinted that Brother Tomás (from the year 1500) is just a fictional character, and that Tommy (from the year 2000) and Tom the Astronaut (from the year 2500) are actually the same person.
- Non Linear Story: you could say that.
- No Ontological Inertia: Tom takes the Tree to the distant Xibalba nebula so that it can be reborn.
- Pimped-Out Dress: Isabel's (Izzy's Spanish counterpart) Requisite Royal Regalia.
- The Polly Anna: All things considered, Izzy must have an iron will or an indomitable spirit. Sadly, it doesn't rub off on Tommy.
- She, unlike Tommy, apparently got through the Five Stages of Grief. If you know you're going to die, there's not much point in moping around, now is there?
- Real Life Writes the Plot : It's no secret Aronofsky considers the film to be a very personal reflection on recent events in his life. The whole exploration of the life/death motif came about after his parents were diagnosed with cancer in 1999. He had to start coming to grips with the fact that our time on this world as living beings is always limited.
- River of Insanity: Tomas' journey to the Tree of Life. Everyone else in the expedition dies or kills each other, and Tomas staggers up the pyramid alone after being stripped of his posessions by Mayan soldiers.
- Recurring Dreams
- Recursive Fiction: Izzy's book turns out to be about Tomas, and future Tom appears in it to get the ring.
- Recursive Reality: See Mind Screw, above. The three versions of Tom and Isabel are either imaginary to each other, reincarnations of each other, or an actual character who attained immortality.
- Reincarnation: One possible interpretation of the plot.
- Rule of Symbolism: The entire movie, but particularly Tomás "living forever" with the Tree of Life by sprouting flora all over, the star Xibalba bursting into a supernova just as Tom has reached his final epiphany (and abandoned the Tree), Izzy reincarnating as the Tree, Tom appearing as Adam / Buddha / the First Man and ascending in the lotus position, and Tommy planting a seed at his wife's grave. See Crossover Cosmology, above.
- Scenery Porn: Any scene involving the Astronaut's spaceship as it travels across the nebula, as well as Tomás final arrival at the Tree of Life, and anything in the Queen's throne room.
- Self-Inflicted Hell: Tom the Astronaut lives a bleak, endless life in total isolation because he refuses to acknowledge death, either his loved ones' or his own. As soon as he accepts it, he frees himself from this hell.
- And, if you believe that future!Tom is not the same as present!Tom, future!Tom's acceptance allows his present-day counterpart to finally move on.
- Shaggy Dog Story: The conquistador plotline. Future-Tom sees that Izzy's story must end and Tomas can't live happily ever after.
- Shout-Out: According to Word of God—"Ground control to Major Tom..."
- The scene where Tommy is walking down the street deep in thought and a car almost runs him over is an homage to a similar scene in Kurosawa's "Ikiru".
- Show Within a Show: The book Izzy works on is called The Fountain. According to most interpretations, that's where the Tomás/Isabel storyline comes from. It's also possible that the future timeline is Tom in the future or his addition to the book.
- Snow Means Death: The funeral is on a snowy day.
- Sole Surviving Scientist: The future in-a-bubble scenes appears to be this trope, although the oncologist is more concerned with staying alive until he reaches a far-off star than with restoring the Earth.
- The Spanish Inquisition
- Time Abyss: The camera pans up from Tom's wedding-ring tattoo to show more and more tattoos, suggesting the passage of vast amounts of time. The tattoos up and down Tom's arm look like tree rings or the Mayan Long Count, or the logarithmic timeline of geological epochs, with each ring containing bigger and bigger intervals. (Even if it's only been 500 years, imagine 500 years alone in space.)
- Tragic Keepsake: Future Tom keeps the quill pen that Izzy gave him on her deathbed and uses it to tattoo himself in remembrance of the ring he lost.
- Transfictionality: One possible interpretation of the plot.
- Unfinished Business: One possible interpretation of the plot is that future!Tom is in Purgatory or a Dying Dream, where he must reconcile himself before moving on.
- Viewers Are Geniuses: If you were expected to get all the symbolism out of this film.
- Who Wants to Live Forever?: Tommy does and finds a way to do just that, but eventually accepts that all things must die.
- A World Half Full
- World Tree: centerpiece of the film.
- You Were Trying Too Hard