The Fountain offers a mind-boggling mix of three parallel stories set in the Spanish Inquisition, a present day medical research lab, and a futurist floating sphere in the year 2500 AD. Hugh Jackman plays a role in each of the plots exploring the vulnerabilities of life and the pursuit to conquer the ever-present reality of death.
During Spain's era of cruel religious slayings, Conquistador Tomas (Jackson) is sent into the jungle of New Spain by Queen Isabel (Rachel Weisz) to hunt down the biblical Tree of Life. While her country is plagued by the brutality and tyranny of the Grand Inquisitor (Stephan McHattie), she turns a blind eye to the events at home and commissions a search for the sap that will give her everlasting life. However, her soldiers' method of dealing with the natives who protect the life-preserving liquid is as merciless as the tactics employed by the Inquisitor in the Old World.
Meanwhile in contemporary times, Tommy (Jackman) is a research scientist perched on the edge of a major breakthrough. Along with his associates (Sean Patrick Thomas, Donna Murphy, Ethan Suplee), he has isolated an enzyme from an ancient tropical tree that promotes astonishing healing processes in animal subjects. He is driven to rush the testing process in order to help human patients, especially his wife Izzi (also played by Weisz) who struggles with an apparently life-threatening ailment. Although the center's lead researcher, Dr. Guzetti (Ellen Burstyn), understands Tommy's fixation with his work, she realizes the young man needs balance between his professional and personal lives.
Finally, floating in bubble-like sphere, a bald and pajama clad Tom Creo (Jackson) is stubbornly nursing the dying, leafless trunk of a tree. Meditating in the lotus position, he draws on his inner strength to will the tree to live until he can find a cure for the ailing plant.
Exploring death in relation to Judeo-Christian teachings, Eastern religions and medical advancements, The Fountain is an imaginative but often confusing journey. Given the unconventional nature of the script, the film will likely polarize audience members into love/hate categories. Violent depictions of armed fighting, flagellation, and self-mutilation are also seen along with Inquisition torture methods. As well, the movie contains some brief sexual activity between a married couple, infrequent profanities and a strong sexual expletive.
As each of the characters face the uncertainties of life, immortality seems to be the answer to all their problems. However, The Fountain diverts viewers in so many directions that the script's effectiveness is soon watered down.