Darren Aronofsky, director of critically acclaimed indie hits Pi and Requiem For a Dream, wanted to try something
new. Rather than tying himself down to another small-budget, character-driven drama, he wanted action and adventure, larger-than-life
battles and awe-inspiring effects. So he did what any director with blockbuster ambitions would – he enlisted the services
of Brad Pitt.
For two-and-a-half years, Aronofsky and Pitt worked together on The Fountain, an epic love story about eternal life
set simultaneously in the past, present and future over the course of 1,000 years. Then, just before filming was scheduled
to begin, Aronofsky was forced to confront every director’s worst nightmare.
“We were about four weeks away from shooting, with $18 million already spent, and Brad Pitt left,” he says. “He
had his reasons. But when he left, the film shut down. So for six months I tried to revive it, because I couldn’t get
it out of my system. I was like a samurai, just honing his blade. One night I couldn’t sleep, and I came to a realization.
I’m a no-budget filmmaker, and I asked myself, ‘What is the no-budget version of this film?’ That, I think,
is when The Fountain became more of a poem than a movie.
“I had to be very persistent. It was a tough sell, getting the studio to recommit to this movie after Brad left, but
we got people behind the project and kept pushing forward. What it taught me is that if you put your mind to it and refuse
to back down, you can make anything.”
Now, The Fountain has been scaled back from an $80-million blockbuster featuring one of the biggest stars on the planet
to a more modest $35-million production starring Hugh Jackman and Aronofsky’s fiancée, Rachel Weisz. And that suits
the director just fine.
“It didn’t turn out to be a no-budget film, but in order to make it the right way, I had to be very aware of what
things cost,” he explains. “I had to find the essence of the story and capture that essence. At its core, this
is a love story, and Rachel’s character is facing an ultimately tragic death while Hugh is trying to save her. That
is the heart of the film, and everything else just expands from that premise.”
For those curious to explore Aronofsky’s original take on The Fountain, it’s available – in the form
of a 2005 graphic novel. The stripped-down cinematic treatment arrives in theaters nationwide on the eve of Thanksgiving,
and despite six years of headaches, recasting and rigorous editing, the director is satisfied.
“I’ve always believed in this project,” he says. “That’s why I couldn’t bring myself to
quit. Now that it’s finished, I’m very happy with it. After all is said and done, this is the film I wanted to
make. And it’s a better film than the one I originally conceived.”