For starters, it wasn’t supposed to be this goddamned cold. And there was supposed to be lots of jungle. Hell, for all the crew of The Fountain knew, there would have been dancing kangaroos and oilcans of beer on every corner if they had only stuck to the plan and shot down in Australia. In fact, the only people who look happy today are the Mayan villagers — flown in from Guatemala for six weeks of filming — who have spent their time marveling at the white puffs that gust out of their mouths in the frigid Canadian air. They’ve never seen that before. The production, on the other hand, has seen just about everything.
”This movie,” says producer Eric Watson, looking decidedly unimpressed by the billowing steam that trails his words, ”has not been easy.”
The story of The Fountain is the tale of how pulling the plug on a movie put hundreds of people out of jobs, pushed a mega-talented filmmaker to the brink of a breakdown, and left years of work in ruins — and how that filmmaker willed the whole thing back into being. It would take writer-director Darren Aronofsky six years, three financing partners, two sets of stars, $53 million ($18 million of which was totally wasted), and one infant named Henry before he would see his third movie in theaters.
But on this moon-cold Montreal day in 2005, he seems surprisingly placid about the ordeal. He chats with his visiting parents and whispers in the ear of his leading lady (and partner) Rachel Weisz. He lopes along, greeting cast and crew, picking at Hugh Jackman’s beard. It’s only when he arrives at his director’s chair — the one he has waited over half a decade to occupy — that a sour note creeps into his voice. He stops, sighs, and laughs in disbelief.
”Do you see that?” he asks no one in particular. ”Warner Brothers spelled my f—ing name wrong!”
In 1998, no one in Hollywood knew how to spell Darren Aronofsky’s name. He hadn’t made a movie. He didn’t know a soul. He was just another hyper-smart Harvard grad who wanted to be in pictures. Then came Pi, his paranoia-soaked debut that won the Directing Award at Sundance. And Requiem for a Dream, which won a bevy of raves and an Oscar nod for Ellen Burstyn. The hyperbolic praise came in a torrent. He was a borderline genius. The new Kubrick. The new Scorsese. (You could practically hear his agents gloating, ”It’s A-R-O-N-O…”) Everyone knew Requiem was important, and everyone wanted to be in the Darren Aronofsky business. He was one of the most in-demand young directors in Hollywood and developed a massive roster of potential projects. Only one really mattered to him: The Fountain.