Thursday, June 07, 2007

Epiphany of Confusion

Have you ever had one of those moments where you're watching a movie that isn't like most movies because it's really artsy or there's lots of symbolism or the story isn't told in chronological order or the movie is Asian? The moment I'm referring to is when you're engrossed in film because it's kind of hard to follow but you're determined to see it through because you've paid so close attention thus far. Finally the various plot elements are starting to come together and you hope the payoff in the end will be completely mind blowing. Then you have the moment. It dawns on you that you won't understand the ending, even though it's still 30 minutes away. You identify with the characters. You pick up on a few pieces of symbolism. But none of that matters, because you already know the ending won't make any sense, at least not to you. You realize you're watching a movie that will no doubt end up as a cult classic because 1) it's too weird for mainstream to embrace it and 2) it's so confusing that the few people out there that claim to understand it will band together and pat each other on the back. That's not to say that the movie experience has been a complete waste of time. Maybe the movie is visually stunning or the acting is profound or the score is particularly powerful or the cinematography is ground breaking. But in the end, you know you'll be disappointed because this could have been one the great ones.

I had such a moment recently while watching Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain with Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz. Without giving away the ending (which I don't think I could, since I'm not really sure what happened at the end), here's a brief synopsis: three stories - one each from the past, present, and future - about men in pursuit of eternal life. A conquistador in Mayan country searches for the tree of life to free his captive queen; a medical researcher, working with tree sap, looks for a cure that will save his dying wife; a space traveler, traveling with an aged tree within a bubble, moves toward a dying star that's wrapped in a nebula; all seek enlightenment. I just wish someone would enlighten me as to what it was I just watched.

Other movies where I've had similar epiphanies of my own impending confusion include Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and, to a lesser extent, Memento and Spirited Away. It's worth noting that I liked those movies.

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