Here’s another brain-scrambler for you. Don’t say I’m not nice to you lot.
Confusing at times, but spectacular.
Across three time periods, a man goes to extraordinary ends to save the life of the woman he loves. Sometime in the 1500s, conquistador Tomás is dispatched by his beloved Queen Isabel to search for the Mayan Tree of Life, in order to help her save Spain from the encroaching Inquisition. In 2005, neuroscientist Tommy works unceasingly to discover a cure for his wife Izzi’s brain tumour before it’s too late, and in the distant future, Tom is on his way to the Orion Nebula in a biosphere spacecraft accompanied only by the Tree of Life and his visions of both Izzi and Isabel. Far out.
This film is Darren Aronofsky’s love letter. Not so much to an individual – although it is that too – but to the idea of love itself, and what that love can make you do. It is a film about regrets, second chances, loss and devotion, and it is a haunting, beautiful thing. It is also a film with a somewhat storied past. Originally envisaged as a huge production starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, it was to feature massive battle scenes between armies of conquistadors and the native Mayans, among other visual extravagances. After Pitt pulled out seven weeks before the scheduled start of photography the film collapsed, but was fittingly reborn after Aronofsky pared down the scale and halved the budget, recasting the roles with Hugh Jackman and his (then) other half, Rachel Weisz. I think it was actually better this way; the immense spectacle of the initial concept could very easily have drowned out the simple love story at the core of the film.
The film looks at the two different reactions to Izzi’s cancer: her fear and ultimate acceptance contrasted against Tommy’s refusal to accept defeat, and obsession to find a cure. But by devoting so much effort into his own quest, he misses out on the time they could have spent together, such as going for a walk in the first snow of the season. His absence is mirrored in the story of Tomás, who leaves Queen Isabel to go on his mission into the jungle, which eventually consumes his whole life. It looks at these reactions and it asks you which would you choose? Which is right?
Now, this is a Darren Aronofsky film. You don’t need me to tell you how fantastic Clint Mansell’s score is, or how gorgeous Matthew Libatique’s cinematography makes everything look (that man really does do his best work with Aronofsky, although he’s certainly no slouch on his other flicks). The use of colour and light and even geometry really makes all the different stages of the story stand apart from each other while still being clearly part of a wider whole.
Time for the big question. As the philosopher Farrokh Bulsara once said, “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” How much of the film is meant to be ‘real’ is up to you. My interpretation goes like this [Yarrgh! Highlight this part to be reading it!]: The present day section is real. Mostly. It is pretty much stated outright that Tomás’ adventure is a representation of the book that Izzi is writing, equating Tommy’s quest for a cure to the conquistador’s mission from his Queen to find the Tree, meaning that the Inquisitor is her tumour. This part of the story freezes a couple of times at the point where the Mayan guardian is about to swing to flaming sword at Tomás; this is as far as Izzi got. This was her cliffhanger of a chapter break. The bit that then happens after that is Tommy finishing the story. What happens to Tomás echoes the story of the First Father that Izzi told Tommy at the museum. As for the Space Bubble, that I think is Tommy’s dream. The last thing Tommy says to his lab assistants is “Death is a disease, just like any other. We’re going to find the cure”. The tree in the bubble with Tom is the one Tommy planted over Izzi’s grave, that now contains her soul (again, just like the story she told him). He is taking her soul to Xibalba – the Mayan underworld – which Izzi told him is in the Orion nebula so that she can be reborn there and they can be together again. This tree has become another Tree of Life and is sustaining him on the voyage. Her spirit is keeping him alive until he reaches their destination. So yeah, that’s how I see it. What about you?
Love love love LOVE this film so hard it actually hurts. Really. It was one of those random films that my mum caught the end of on the television one day and told me that I needed to watch it. So I did. And fell in love.
I’ve watched this film many a time, and you’re right. It’s a mind melter. But, you asked our opinion on what we think the film means. So here we go.
I think you’re right, that the present time is real life. And that the book is represented by the warrior man. But I don’t think I agree with you on the Bubble Man. I kind of believed that he represented the dying star that she goes on about. Or rather, I thought the tree was the dying star, and he was his protector. And the only way he could make the tree survive was to sacrifice himself. But to me, the main moral of the story is that death is inevitable. Izzi dies and Tommy finally comes to accept it. Tomas was trying to find immortal life, which backfired on him. And the Space Bubble man knew that the only way to keep his tree alive was to sacrifice himself. And it was that character that made me start to cry, because of his acceptance of death with a smile.
So…yeah, that’s what I thought. Don’t know if that’s right at all, but it’s what I want it to mean.