The Fountain (2006)
Frequently Asked Questions
Xibalba (pronounced "shibalba") is the underworld that Tom is destined to reach to be reunited with Izzi.
Xibalba is said to be a nebula with a dying star at its core.
According to a Mayan myth of creation, Xibalba is the place where the heavens and the earth were born.
Xibalba in the movie corresponds to the Orion constellation.
The film's original title is known as The Last Man, which is also the title of one of the songs in the soundtrack to the film. This title shows that the future story is indeed true as Tom is indeed shown to be the last man in the future story. Director Aronofsky has also stated multiple times that Tom is the last man alive in the future story.
Furthermore, as the Tree of Life is dying in the 26th century chapter and uprooted from Earth, we can assume that the Earth itself was dead.
The main concept is about finding the meaning of life through death by accepting death as natural and not the end of life, but a transformation into another state.
However there are other themes in the film.
The triangle symbol represents the past.
The square symbol represents the present.
The circle symbol represents the future.
There is a heavy focus on the journey from darkness into light.
Time is cyclical with no barriers in which past, present and future are all connected.
The above answer is only part of it. It is the simple answer the basic concept...
Love is eternal
The core concept of the movie is about letting go. Once Tom lets go his fear, desire, sadness and accept death, he becomes enlightened and breaks the cycle of death and rebirth (samsara). Interestingly, through this process, he inadvertently becomes the First Father as the Tree of Life is rejuvenated by the supernova of Xibalba and his life essence is absorbed into a new cycle of creation. It is a deeply spiritual movie.
The true concept behind the film is one man's fight for his wife and immortality. And his wife's acceptance of her fate. He is nothing without her but she has reached a degree of enlightenment (A degree of clarity which is by Asian culture is the goal but by South American standards only the second enemy/step (clarity) of true knowledge) and knows that though death one gains immortality. This is a very religious movie more so in an eastern mind than a western mind.
The past story of Queen Isabel sending her best man out to find the Tree of Life is not in order to gain immortality but to save Spain. Isabel has accepted her fate to die at the hand of the Inquisitor and must send out her most loyal man in order to accept that fate and save Spain from being crushed by the back last of the assassination of the Inquisitor. Knowing that in doing so she has forfeited her life. She gave him a ring knowing that they would gain immortality not through the trees sap but through death and the acceptance thereof. This teaching spans almost all myth and religion from Christians to Taoism. That only through death may one gain eternal life.
Izzi must have also thought this and accepted her fate to die. Thomas did not accept this and so puts all his power into finding a cure for death. Which in his mind is something that can be cured, he refuses to accept death and so spends many years putting off death and seeking a cure for his dead wife, seeking a way to be with her again. He has conquered by Mayan standards three of the enemies of knowledge, fear, clarity, power and the last one the one that Mayans believe unconquerable finally takes him... death. Yet he became a true man of knowledge and was not blinded by clarity of acceptance of death...
The future story is when Tom has fought for many years in seeking his wife and a way past death and has through deep meditation and focus traveled with the tree of life to the land of the dead where he hopes to be reunited with his wife and perhaps have her partake of the Tree of Life with him so that they may both live together for eternity. But upon closing in on the Xibalba his wife continues to prod him to finish his quest. Tom finally realizes with the death of the Tree of Life that death is not the end but only a beginning not an ending but a rebirth. This is a common theme in all culture and religion. We see this in the way the Mayan high priest accepted his death and gave his life so that he may live forever. We see this as the queens man's body become life for the tree and the flowers that grew out of it. He became part of the earth, part of the flowers, and when they flowers are eaten he will become part of the animal that ate them and so forth and so on. That in death you become immortal. This is also hinted at in the Inquisitors speech. It is a common view of Samurai and Zen Warriors. As with almost all teaching and culture humans have to find a way to deal with death and not try to fight it. Does the movie also try to teach this acceptance? Or does it desire to inspire us to rebel and conquer death? To no longer accept it as the only way to immortality?
There are many other themes in this movie, think of it all over again as Thomas fighting like a genius of the past to do the impossible to go against the masses, to question the norm as Da Vinci did and so many others. That the acceptance of death preached to us from so many places by so many people is just another drug to keep our mind still and hearts at ease. That Thomas in his battle rejected all and left on his journey to be yet unable to conquer the last obstacle. It is not three stories it is but one story the story of Tom, his present and his past. Izzi's book taught acceptance and she wanted tom to also accept, but Tom was not ready not should he have. The challenge still stand and the movie shows it to us. All great men where not called great in their lifetime but only now as we look back on them.
Some would say the past story is untrue because it comes from Izzi's book.
However, while there is this to consider, most of the evidence appears in favor of supporting the past story as being true.
1) One big piece of evidence to support the past story being true is that the compound with the extract from the Guatemalan tree actually does work on the monkey in the present story. This compound reverses aging and even cures cancer. Thus it validates the existence of the Tree of Life in the past story from Izzi's book.
2) There really were Conquistadors, Inquisitors, Mayans, political battles for control in Spain, and Spanish territories in the Americas. Darren Aronofksy used the book the "True History of the Conquest of New Spain" by Bernal Diaz del Castillo which is a real account of a conquistador's journey as research for writing his past story. This supports Izzi's book being true.
3) In the film Dr. Thomas of the present story is shown to be affected deeply by Izzi's book, almost as if it were a real story of the distant past. In one sequence at the beginning of the film Dr. Thomas looks at the light from a bulb and appears to have a momentary hallucination seeing the Xibalba nebula up close in great detail. His face contorts into shock as he comes to a realization. Thomas seeing the Xibalba nebula in a hallucination so early in the film is important because this occurs before Izzi shows Thomas through a telescope Xibalba. In another sequence shortly after reading a few chapters of Izzis book,Thomas has a vivid dream that startles him causing him to awaken petrified. Thus, it appears as if Thomas is recalling the past life vision of Tomas. Even with the parallels between the book and his life, it defies convention that Thomas who is a man of science that doesnt believe in Izzi's stories would be terrified by a fictional story of the past to the point that it causes him to have hallucinations, especially since this starts occurring before Thomas has even started reading the book unless Thomas has actually, somehow, experienced such a story of the past.
4) In "The Fountain" graphic novel, which Director Darren Aronofsky has called the director's cut of his film, Tom of the future story is shown to have a massive scar on his chest that came from Tomas of the past story getting sliced by the fire sword of the Mayan high priest. Thus in the graphic novel if the future story is accepted as real, then the past story must be real as well, otherwise Tom wouldn't have Tomas identical scar.
5) If the future story in the film is to be accepted as real then the past story must be real as well as the future validates the past. Everything in the Mayan myth of creation Izzi told Dr. Thomas in the present story at the museum that makes up the basis of her book is presented in the future. The future story shows Tom as a godlike figure with a Tree of Life that makes Tom immortal so long as he eats from it. This is identical to the power of the Tree of Life mentioned in Izzi's book. Tom just like in the myth from the book is shown to be the First Father that must sacrifice himself so that the Tree of Life may live. There are other details as well that point to this conclusion. Tom uses a quill ro mark the ring tattoos on his body which references Tomas in the past story using a quill to write a letter. Tom is also careful with how much sap he takes from the Tree of Life, which references the event of the past story whem Tomas dranked so much sap from the Tree of Life that he was buried by flowers. Additionally, Tom recalls the past story in vivid detail and accepts it as real as the present story.
6) The past story appears to be treated as equal to the present and future story therefore it must be real. The past story is shown in the film to be on equal footing with the other stories. In particular there is a scene in the past of Tomas racing on horseback towards a castle that is filmed in a very specific manner. This specific manner of filming is repeated again in the present story when Tomas races by car to the hospital and again in the future story when Tom races in the tree ship sphere towards Xibalba. While some would argue this is merely film technique with no meaning, Aronofsky has commented that he made conscious decisions that elicit meaning when filming. Thus, if the past story was not real, it stands to reason that Aronofsky would have filmed the past sequence differently to illustrate that it isn't real and not in the same style as he did with the other scenes in the other stories. For example one way fictional stories have been showcased to not be real in movies is by having the fictional story be depicted in the colors of black and white, while the rest of the film is in color.
7) According to Aronofsky understanding the film is in the details, the details of Izzi's book appear to provide evidence that the past story is true. In real life there have been some people that at some point in their life have started recalling memories of an apparent past life in another age in another body. Some of these people come to believe in reincarnation. One of the methods a person faced with the probability of being reincarnated comes to understand their past life is by writing their resurging past life memories in a diary. Writing your experiences in a diary is a way of recording your experiences so that they may not be stated as real and forgotten. All this is important because Izzi's book doesnt come in the binding of traditional fiction. She didnt write her story on a computer and then simply put it into a standard non-lined printed paperback novel with an introduction. Instead, Izzi's book was written by hand in a hardcover diary on lined paper with ink from a pen that carries a Mayan symbol for a tip. The difference is significant because if Aronofsky who is a master of details wanted us to believe the past story was fiction undoubtedly he would have had Izzi write her book on a computer or laptop. Instead Aronofsky binds the past story as if it was real in a diary. Further not once in the film is Izzi's book called a novel. This is important because writers use the term novel to refer specifically to a fictional work and the term book to refer specifically to a nonfiction work. Two examples are Stephen King's novel "The Stand" or Carl Bernstein's book "All the President's Men". If Izzi's work was fictional she would have called it a novel, just as writers generally have done for centuries.
A few have said that the future story isnt real, that it is only a product of Dr. Thomas imagination in the present story. However, much evidence does appear to make the future story true.
1) In the film Tom in the future story is shown recalling his past lives. If the future was all fiction why would Tom need to recall his past lives?
2) In the present story Dr. Thomas actions appear to validate the future story. Thomas using a pen marks his ring finger with a ring tattoo. In the future story, Tom is shown to have this ring tattoo along with other ring tattoos all over his body that represent the many years that have passed since the death of his wife. In the present story Thomas declares that he will find a cure for death and becomes obsessed with unraveling the secret of live over death. In the future story we see how this obsession has grown and changed Thomas into the Tom figure.
3) The compound with the extract from the Guatemalan tree actually does work on the monkeys in the present story. This compound reverses aging and even cures cancer. Thus it validates the existence of the Tree of Life in the future.
4) In the present story Moses Morales account from Guatemala of his father that turned into a tree from a seed from a Guatemalan tree that Izzi relates to Thomas and Tomass sprouting of flowers in the past story give credence to the future story being real. In the present story Thomas has acquired a seed, possibly one he got from Izzi on a Guatemalan trip, he carries this seed to Izzis grave and buries it there. The implication from this is that the Tree of Life in the future story comes from this seed and the remains of Izzi, being an amalgamation of the two. Tom reacts to the Tree of Life as if it is his dead wife, caressing it and loving it in a similar manner as he did his wife. Aronofsky makes this clear by making scene transitions back and forth showing Thomas loving his wife in the present story to Tom loving the Tree of Life in the future story.
5) In The Fountain graphic novel which Director Darren Aronofsky has called the director's cut of his film, Tomas of the past story receives a scar by getting sliced by the fire sword of the Mayan high priest and Tom from the future story is shown to still carry this scar. Thus in the graphic novel if the past is accepted as real, then the future must be real as well, otherwise the scar that Tomas received would not still be carried by Tom.
6) The future story appears to be treated as equal to the present story and past story therefore it must be real. In particular there is a scene in the future story where Tom races in the tree ship sphere towards Xibalba, that is filmed in a very specific manner. This specific manner of filming is repeated again in the present story when Tomas races by car to the hospital and again in the past story when Tomas races on horseback towards a castle. While some would argue this is merely film technique with no meaning, Aronofsky has commented that he made conscious decisions that elicit meaning when filming. Thus, if the future story was not real, it stands to reason that Aronofsky would have filmed the future sequence differently to illustrate that it isnt real and not in the same style as he did with the other scenes in the other stories.
7) If the past story in the film is to be accepted as real then the future story must be real as well as the past validates the future. Parts of the Mayan myth of creation Izzi told Dr. Thomas in the present story at the museum that makes up the basis of her book is presented in the past. The past story shows Tomas with a Tree of Life that makes Tomas immortal so long as he eats from it. A similar scene was shown in the future story except now Tom knew not to take much from the Tree of Life to survive. Tomas in the past story is revealed to be the First Father that must sacrifice himself so that the Tree of Life may live. This premise supports the final events of the future story. Tomas in the past story uses a quill to write a letter which reinforces the future sequence where Tom uses a quill to mark a tattoo on his body. Additionally, Tomas in the past story envisions a sight of Xibalba that is identical to the one that Tom witnesses at the end of the future story.
In between reminiscing about the past, meditating and getting sustenance from the Tree of Life, the future Tom can be seen very briefly doing Taiji. Aronofsky aesthetically displays this sequence through a simple silhouette of Tom performing a modified Chen Taiji Cannon Fist in front of starlit cosmos inside his bubble spacecraft. This shortened form was especially developed for the movie by Chen Taiji teacher, Ren Guangyi (a disciple of Master Cheng Xiaowang).
According to the Indian religions, achieving the pari-nirvana or the ultimate state of enlightenment is likened to extinguishing a candle with a breath or a sigh.
Tom as the First Father sacrifices his life to protect and heal the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life then is reborn. The Tree of Life colliding in the explosion with all the souls in Xibalba creates a new white galaxy of stars and planets. Aronofsky states this in The Fountain commentary.
This is also supported by the last shot of the movie where it shows Tommy looking up at the sky and the Xibalba nebula disappears, to be replaced by another Nebula in a huge explosion of light.