Three stories - one each from the past, present, and future - about men in pursuit of eternity with their love. A conquistador in Mayan country searches for the tree of life to free his captive queen; a medical researcher, working with various trees, looks for a cure that will save his dying wife; a space traveler, traveling with an aged tree encapsulated within a bubble, moves toward a dying star that's wrapped in a nebula; he seeks eternity with his love. The stories intersect and parallel; the quests fail and succeed.
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
. Starring: Hugh Jackman
, Rachel Weisz
, Ellen Burstyn
, Mark Margolis
, Stephen McHattie
, Fernando Hernandez
, Cliff Curtis
, Sean Patrick Thomas
, Donna Murphy
, Ethan Suplee
, Richard McMillan
, Lorne Brass
, Abraham Aronofsky
. Music by: Clint Mansell
I found this film interesting but not enjoyable, and overall I feel it fails. I endured discomfort in hope of a satisfying conclusion, and was disappointed.
For those whose focus is on life as a physical experience (most of the audience), this film is ultimately about a man trying to accept his wife's death and her attempt to show him why she's unafraid of it. Because of some very fine acting, our interest is piqued and our emotions are stirred enough to be made uncomfortable by this man's tragedy. We feel his love, his fear, his desperation, and his poignant failure, and we are as depressed by it as he is - it isn't a fun experience. The film feels dark, not only emotionally, but physically so that you begin to crave light.
This is where the fantastical elements of the film should come in to relieve us, but they don't. They are just as dark as rest of the film, even parts which add a warm golden glow to the overall black, white and dead gray tones. The film actually begins with the fantastical story, depicting the middle of a manuscript the dying wife is writing. After a piece of that it moves on to a glimpse of the third element of the film (after the physical and fantastical) - a spiritual journey, which is arguably what the film is really about. I found this opening frustrating - you are being presented with all this dark intense action about to crescendo, and a vision of some sort, but you haven't yet been given any reason to care about the outcome or the characters. So it becomes something to endure, knowing that eventually you will understand, and hopefully care. It's not the first time this technique has been used, but I didn't find it to be successful here, just somewhat vexing.
So taking this man's situation and the story in the manuscript his wife is writing, as well as a depiction of what we are left to assume is the man's inner, spiritual journey - it's never made clear, the scenes are just there, without ever showing us when or how the man is having these experiences - the film asks the audience to shift its focus to the spiritual aspects of life, and then attempts to take us on the man's journey, calming everyone's fears and griefs about death. This is where it failed for me. We are shown that the man had an epiphany, and are very successfully led to feel it's powerful, beautiful, profoundness, but though an attempt was made to do so, we were not guided to share in his new understanding. We are left on the outside looking in, wishing we could understand why the idea sparked by his wife's unfinished story is so satisfying for him.
The film presents the idea that physically, one does not really die because our bodies become elements of new life - earth, trees, flowers etcetera, as well as vegetation that feeds other beings. Since a part of us then becomes a part of all things physical, in death we yet continue as all life eternally continues and renews, and it may be that our consciousness continues in a new way within all these parts of new life. The film presents a second idea that seems contradictory, or it may be that its connection is simply left unexplained, and that is that it's misguided to see seek a physically immortal life, because your immortality lies in what comes after leaving the physical behind. Given the ecstasy we are shown when the man seems to grasp this concept, we are led to believe that this immortal afterlife, represented by the Mayan myth of Xibalba, is something so wonderful that we should not cling to physical life when it's time to move on to this place.
These are beautiful ideas, but they are presented to the audience in an uncomfortable manner. There are unusual close ups and camera angles that jar you out of your comfort zone. They are probably meant to wake you up so that your mind will look around, and hopefully see something beyond the pictures on the screen, but that doesn't make the experience appealing. The lighting is depressing and there is some misplaced sensuality in the man's relationship with the tree. The tree seems to represent his wife, but also the tree of life in general, and the tree of her life which is dying, and his connection within the vision to the physical tree which might save her body. Because it represents so much more than merely his wife, the man's partaking of the tree and the constant close ups of the skin-like bark, with all the fine hairs responding to his nearly touching fingers is repellent.
In the end you still don't understand why any of these things makes the man's loss any less poignant. You've been given good reasons to feel that his beloved is safe and happy and not lost to him forever, which no doubt eases some of his pain, but we were not shown anything that gave him a reason to enjoy the rest of his life, since she's beyond his reach for the moment. The audience is shown his acceptance of her death and it's believable, but we are still left depressed. There is no implication of any future happiness for him, at least, not until he dies and joins her again. I believe the film was meant to be uplifting but I did not find it so - it left me cold, not warm.
The film might be worthwhile if life beyond death is a new concept to you, but if so you might also have a hard time deciphering the message. For me it wasn't worth the bumpy ride. I think the film "What Dreams May Come" presents a clearer picture and is much more uplifting.
Review by IndySpirit from the Internet Movie Database.