I've recently been going through my own DVD collection lately, most of which was acquired my freshman year at college (so, like 3 years ago). Anyway, I ended up watching Love Story and The Fountain back-to-back. It's a weirdly perfect combination of romances that end with the death of the woman: one reflecting on a passionate relationship of a few years and one about finding out how to deal with impending death.
Love Story (1970) is a chick flick that I would actually tell somebody to watch. There's so much cute and sass that it keeps from becoming senseless drivel but instead just enjoyably sappy.
It begins with a man sitting on bench with the narration "What can you say about a 25-year-old girl who died? That she was beautiful and brilliant? That she loved Mozart and Bach? The Beatles? And me?" This is Harvard jock Oliver Barrett* (Ryan O'Neal) who we quickly see in a flashback meeting the saucy Radcliffe music major Jennifer Cavalleri (Ali MacGraw), the one who we know will die. Their attraction is immediate and fiery. She calls him Preppy. He calls her a Radcliffe Bitch. It's just great.
Their courtship is a series of quick scenes. We see them go on dates. Jennifer sees Oliver play hockey. Oliver sees Jennifer play the harpsichord. Tommy Lee Jones makes an appearance. There's even a ridiculously cute scene where the dream couple is playing football in the snow (Jennifer, of course, is wearing a large sweatshirt, adding to her adorableness). Throughout there's a lot of sarcastic swearing at each other until one of them is sincere about their feelings. Again, it's just great.
The rest of the film involves them getting married, meeting Jennifer's sweet Catholic dad, dealing with the freeze-out between Oliver and his father, poverty from sending Oliver to law school, and "love means never having to say you're sorry." And then they want to have children, but they can't get pregnant. It turns out Jennifer is ill and--besides the bizarro choice to not tell her about if for awhile--the illness and death is fairly quick and kind of sweet, with Jennifer refusing the A Walk to Remember treatment**.
Francis Lai's overdramatic score almost pushes the whole thing into terrible shmaltz, but Ali MacGraw makes up for it everytime she delivers a "don't bullshit me" line, and you just accept the film for what it is: a tragic, sincere, youthful romance.
The Fountain (2006), however, is not as fun to watch. It's vulnerable in its study of how people deal with death. Plus, it's hard film to watch with complex combination of three storylines involving the same couple.
The anchor for the film takes place in modern day. It shows how Tommy (Hugh Jackman) is dealing with his wife Izzi's (Rachel Weisz) cancer. He's a research scientist doing cancer treatment trials on primates and trying to defeat death. Needless to say, he's not handling things well.
Another storyline is the first one we see, and it takes place in the 16th Century. Spanish conquistadors are facing hostile Mayans. Tomas (Jackman) is brought to the leader and we see him get stabbed. This is the penultimate chapter in a book being written by Izzi, which she will later ask Tommy to finish. Throughout the film we get to see the book from the beginning which includes Queen Isabel of Spain (Weisz) under the threat being overthrown by the inquisition. She sends Tomas to the Americas to find the tree of life that will provide immortality and save Spain.
The third storyline takes place in the future. Tommy is in space, contained in a bubble with a tree; he treats this tree like Izzi. His only company is his memories of Izzi and occasionally of the Queen. He's heading for a star, Xhibalba, where he hopes to find immortality.
The storylines intertwine in such a way that an interpretation is clearly evident, but it's pretty clear the Darren Arronofsky wanted to present the idea that seeking immortality is a bad idea. Many of the same shots, actions, and ideas are present in all three plots clearly showing the parrallels between them. The tree in the future might even be the same tree that Tommy used to make an experimental drug.
It's gorgeously shot with a lovely score by Clint Mansell. The most moving part of the film, however, is Hugh Jackman. Rewatching The Fountain made me wish he took more serious roles because he can carry a film--even a very clinical and symbolic film like this one--and make it relatable. Weisz is lovely as well, giving playful sagacity to modern-day Izzi, but it's Jackman that makes this film for me.
The one thing I found strangely similar in both films is when Oliver and Tommy find out their wives are irrevocably going to die. In Love Story, Oliver walks along the streets to the sound of eerie bell vibrations, drowning out other noises. The Fountain shows Tommy walking down the street with only the sound of footsteps until he's almost hit by a car causing ambient noise to come screaming back. Finding that parallel made the fact very clear that this was a weird double feature, but very satisfying.
*Also my guitar's name.
**No temporary tatoos were had and no stars were bought.