What I’ve Been Watching – DVD – The Fountain and Sweet Sixteen

The_Fountain - Poster.jpgThe Fountain

Aronofsky’s The Fountain is one of the most divisive films of the last ten years. Some see it as an enchanting, sophisticated fairytale; others as an ambitious but deeply flawed misfire.

It tells three stories in three different times: past, present and future. Hugh Jackman plays the male lead in all three tales. In each case as he tries to use the Tree of Life to ensure he and his love, portrayed by Rachel Weisz, can remain together.

There’s something altogether dreamlike about The Fountain: its use of an orange/yellow palette, the way characters speak, the way it floats between its three narratives. For me, it was like your best dreams – you don’t want to wake up and upon reflection it’s difficult to tell why.

Of course the movie wouldn’t succeed if it was merely a visual, dreamy work. At its heart is a painful story of a man trying to extend the life of his dying wife and wasting the precious time they have together as a result. There’s something deceptively simple about this message, given all the confusion the film seems to throw at the viewer. Perhaps that’s the point – some things in life are confusing, but death isn’t: it’s deceptively easy to understand but almost impossible to comprehend.

One can view The Fountain as a piece of pretentious nonsense. A director with too much time on his hands to create this strange, hallucinogenic
world. However, it’s nothing if not ambitious, and in a movie-making environment that seems to be dominated by sequels, reboots and remakes I think Aronofsky should be applauded for making something so unique.

The Fountain was a movie I liked without really feeling the need to justify why I was so taken by it. I’m sure it does have a strong message about life, death, love and bereavement. However, I’ll probably have to re-watch it a few more times before I can say precisely what that message is.

sweet_sixteen_ver2.jpgSweet Sixteen

Not to be confused with My Super Sweet Sixteen, Ken Loach’s Sweet Sixteen is about anything but a spoiled teenager trying to throw the biggest, bestest birthday party ever.

Instead the main character, Liam’s, aspirations are merely to buy a caravan away from his current house in Greenock. His vision is that he and his mother, who’s currently in jail, can live away from her current boyfriend Stan, a drug dealer.

In order to realise his dream, he needs £6,000. To get the money, he makes the risky choice of stealing drugs from Stan and selling them himself. What follows is a coming-of-age drama, as Liam gets ‘head-hunted’ by the kingpin of the area to continue selling drugs: something it seems he has a knack for: his plucky nature and entrepreneurial spirit making up for his lack of grit.

Loach’s depiction of Greenock, on the outskirts of Glasgow, is the film’s greatest strength: giving you a great sense of the dialect and attitudes of the people who live there. They swear, they fight, they laugh, and there’s a real sense of believability in Liam’s rather naive dream of living in a caravan by the sea.

There’s also a fairly clear political/social message to this film. All the adults depicted act as negative role models for Liam: enslaved to drugs, whether as users or dealers. The only sense of hope we get is from his sister Chantelle, herself a young mother who’s determined to give her son a better life that she and Liam got from their parents.

The film’s message seems to be that the older generation have mucked everything up. It’s up to this new generation to make the right, difficult choices so they don’t end up just like their parents. It suggests the only way change can happen is from the individual – all the kids depicted having no outside forces to point them on the strait and narrow.

Overall, Sweet Sixteen is a worryingly convincing depiction of a teenager who has been left to fend for himself without any real clue about how to do so. Like the best social commentary, it asks lots of questions but offers few answers: forcing us to think again the next time we are so quick to judge the ‘feral’ youth behind the headlines.

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