The Fountain was now completely soundstage-bound and could be mounted in any major city. Gone were the battle scenes. Hugh Jackman, who had wowed Aronofsky and Watson in The Boy From Oz, took Pitt’s part. On his suggestion, Weisz, whom Aronofsky previously swore he wouldn’t cast in his own projects, became the female lead.
The Fountain opens on 1,500 screens on Thanksgiving weekend, a psychotic realm of hourly nationwide box-office reports and anxious projections. To hang around, it needs something the director never thought it would have to deliver: a big opening weekend. Hoping to goose Pi and Requiem’s core sci-fi geek demographic, Warner Bros. has screened it at techie events and cultivated an online community of “fountainheads,” centering on the excitable and influential film-geek site Ain’t It Cool News.
Offline critics have been less impressed. After The Fountain got some boos in Venice last September, the next day’s papers went in for the kill—dubbing the film the festival’s biggest disappointment, a catastrophe, a hubristic disaster. Both Aronofsky and Watson insist that the reaction was in fact evenly split. Two people even came to blows and had to be pulled apart, something Aronofsky sees as a great reaction to an intellectual provocation.
Although the director puts the requisite brave hat on, he feels ambushed—not by anyone in particular but by a smirking culture that, he believes, prevents audiences from connecting with the film. “I don’t know why people still practice cynicism,” he says, as if talking about a crude ancient religion.
Warner Bros. seems to have heeded some of the film’s lessons and made Zen-like peace with every possible financial outcome. For its part, Aronofsky’s production company, Protozoa, is taking its business to Universal for the next three years. Somewhere in Hollywood, somebody is doubtlessly banking on the notion that with The Fountain out of his system, the genius can finally get down to the business of being a hot director. “It’s scary how Hollywood works,” Aronofsky admits. “But I’ll roll with it. I’ll make whatever they let me make next.”