The Fountain and the Cure for Altitude Sickness

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Writer/director Darren Aronofsky discusses the inspiration and passion behind his most recent film The Fountain, a cinematic contemplation of the paradox that exists between, life, death, and the heart of infinite love. At the end of this discussion, Stuart offers his own review of The Fountain in a very special essay he has titled “The Cure for Altitude Sickness.”

“For me The Fountain’s always been more of a conversation than it is a movie. I think it’s also a puzzle; it’s using different parts of your mind because emotionally, at the core of it, is something that is really deep for a lot of people, and hard to think about….”Darren Aronofsky

In 1998 Darren Aronofsky released his first feature-length film, Pi. Shot in Super 16 Black and White, and made for a meager $60,000, the film put him on the map as an inventive director and a bankable talent (shortly after its release one writer joked “Pi = $1,000,000″). Pi was followed with his 2000 sophomore super-nova, Requiem For A Dream. The $5 million dollar Requiem—a vivid and unflinching odyssey through the bottomless depths of addiction and delusion—became a critical and popular success that dispelled any doubts of Aronofsky’s gift. Starring Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, and Marlon Wayans, the film garnered the cultural currency which allowed Aronofsky to pursue an even more ambitious project: The Fountain.

Warner Brothers originally green-lit Darren’s third film at a budget of $80 million, with a cast starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. After two and a half years of intimate collaboration, Pitt pulled out of the project six weeks before shooting, and the film collapsed. Aronofsky attempted to switch focus to other projects, but found himself invariably drawn back to The Fountain. Through a series of travails, he eventually rewrote the script, radically changed his production plan, and made a streamlined version of The Fountain for $30 million. Relying upon incredibly inventive filming techniques (such as micro-photography of live yeast which is transposed to macro-scale celestial nebulae on the big screen), and the addition of stars Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz (Darren’s wife), Aronofsky’s biggest creative gamble has miraculously found its way into the World after all.

The Fountain has proven to be a divisive film among audiences and critics, and this is what motivated Stuart Davis to invite Aronofsky to an exclusive dialogue on Integral Naked. Like many great films with deeper, enigmatic dimensions (e.g. Mulholland Drive, The Thin Red Line, Dancer In The Dark, I Heart Huckabees, The Matrix), Stu points out that The Fountain’s trans-rational features have been mistaken by some as merely irrational fodder, which is then often equated with pre-rational myth and magic, because both pre-rational and trans-rational are non-rational (one version of the “pre/trans fallacy”). This phenomenon, in which symbols from a higher developmental level, stage, or altitude of awareness are filtered through lower and more limited perspectives, induces what Stuart calls “altitude sickness.” In such instances, a viewer anchored in, for example, a rational center of gravity gets interpretive vertigo when they encounter something from above or beyond their register. As Stu suggests, the subject often dismisses the U.F.O (unidentifiable freaky ontology) as extraneous non-sense.

An Integral Approach values and engages pre-rational, rational, and trans-rational dimensions, while understanding the important distinction between them. Each domain or altitude has unique epistemologies, or ways of knowing. A film like The Fountain is not just a flat, monochromatic “it” with a right or wrong interpretation waiting to be had. There are varying depths of perspective it can be viewed from, and indeed a film, or any piece of art, feels very different depending upon the altitude of the subject interpreting it. Stuart and Darren begin their conversation by exploring this riddle.

Aronofsky candidly shares his deepest reasons for pursuing such a nuanced enterprise, and the secret to keeping a clear head in the cacophony of feedback that comes with the release of any film. Stuart and Darren discuss the perennial spiritual themes running through his films, and Darren’s commitment to sincerity and depth in a cultural climate too often paralyzed by irony, deconstruction, and surfaces.

Of course, just because a movie has transrational dimensions doesn’t mean it will be entertaining. Depth and sincerity do not guarantee an experience of wonder. Does The Fountain deliver on its promise? One of the film’s refrains is “Death is the road to awe.” What is it Aronofsky is inviting us to die into, and what is it we may find ourselves in awe of? Integral Naked is thrilled to welcome this brilliant artist as he offers us an exclusive glimpse inside The Fountain….

At the end of this discussion, Stuart offers his own review of The Fountain in an essay he has titled “The Cure for Altitude Sickness.” We hope you enjoy this fascinating conversation with one of the most extraordinary writer/directors in Hollywood….

Darren Aronofsky

About Darren Aronofsky

Darren Aronofsky is the writer/director of the extraordinary film The Fountain, as well as Noah, Black Swan, Requiem For a Dream and Pi, for which he received the 1998 Sundance Festival's Directing Award for Dramatic Competition.

Stuart Davis

About Stuart Davis

Stuart Davis is a longtime friend of Integral Life and Ken Wilber, and has acted as guest host for many Integral Life dialogues over the last decade. With fifteen full-length albums to his credit, Stuart has carved out a unique wavelength in the musical spectrum. Taking the topics of God, sex and death, and crafting them into inimitable pop songs with lyrical flair and unforgettable hooks, Stuart also works in television, film, painting, and books.

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