Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Fountain:A Quest for Immortality Part 1

Even though I probably shouldn't post a paper that I've written online out of fear of theft I am posting it anyway. Whatever I post online could get stolen anyway so why not. I had to write a paper and make a presentation for my Religion in American Pop Culture class at MTSU on a tv show, film, or book that contained religious themes. I chose Darren Aronofsky's 2006 film The Fountain. Now I know I talk about The Fountain a lot because it is such a beautiful, thought provoking film so I just couldn't resist making this my topic of choice.

Our professor, Rabbi Rami (you can read his blog here), returned my paper with comments ("questions really") and I thought I would post it all in its entirety and respond with a few comments of my own. Rami's comments will be in black and my responses/comments will be in reddish brown since the red I was using were hurting my eyes.

Part 2
Part 3

[Warning: The following text contains plot spoilers.]

The Fountain: A Search for Immortality
By Eruesso

There are dozens of products out there in the market that promises a longer life span or a younger look: creams, makeup, vitamins, and herbal products. When used, all of these may promise that you might feel and look younger but outside of daily exercise and a healthy diet none of these can really extend your lifespan. And even if you could delay death, it can't be defeated; at least, not yet.

Rami: What if it could? What would that do to society, morality, family systems, etc?
I cannot begin to imagine the impact this would have on the world. This would shake the foundation of some major world religions and even some new ones might be created. Let's assume that death still occurs with severe mortal wounds. Of course any eternal life product or medical breakthrough would only be available to the rich nations first. After the jubilation is shaken off the world then would turn to overpopulation. With no death people would continue living and consuming resources at astronomical rates. Birth control laws (including abortion laws) would have to be imposed to control overpopulation (sounds eerily like China maybe?) to buy us enough time to start colonizing other worlds. If humanity does not develop it's technology to keep up with the overpopulation, and if it does not destroy itself by means of a global nuclear war over evaporating resources it must still struggle to keep its soul. For by removing death from the human experience we lose a part of our humanity causing us to evolve into something beyond human. If we make it that far.

Models and actors in magazines and films show us that with a little help from plastic surgery we can look 35 at the age of 65. These modern day gods hope to live forever on the lips and memories of mortal man by earning a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame or being immortalized on the Silver Screen. But even these stars eventually burn out and are replaced with new ones. There is an unspoken fear in American Pop Culture that nurtures this drive to delay death as long as possible. Religion tries to calm that fear and explain what happens when we die. Although some religions require strict adherence in leading a morally upright life, the results of giving up the pleasures of this world, including life itself, helps to get you into a paradise-like afterlife. The Fountain struggles with this concept of accepting death and the fear of what may or may not happen afterwards.

Rami: Where does this fear come from? We say we are afraid of the unknown, but that is impossible. If we do not know something we cannot be afraid of it. What we fear are possible futures, but these have no bases in fact. We fear our own fantasies. Why? Who benefits from our fears? Follow the Money. Follow the Power.
I just started reading Alan Watts' book The Wisdom of Insecurity and it focuses heavily on the subject of how Man is preoccupied with the uncertain future. Man's desire for security is so overwhelming that he wastes his life in the present while his eyes and heart are fixed in the future. So yes, I agree that not only is Man afraid of possible futures but also afraid of anything (including death) that might threaten the security of the future he dreams about. When you envision yourself in a future event do you also envision a slightly older version of yourself or you in your present age (even though we're aging by the second)? Death returns us back to the state we were in before birth,nonexistence. And since we can only dream of a possible future in a life beyond the grave we can not confirm it.

As for who benefits from our fears I too agree. Churches can ease our fear as long as we attend every week and give a voluntary donation, guns can keep us safe as long as we continue to buy bullets, and you can forget your fears when you bite into a Little Debbie ("Unwrap a Smile"). Commercialism feeds off of that fear, "You live in a miserable, unsafe, fearful world so buy our product and it'll make you feel warm and fuzzy inside until you forget your fears".

In The Fountain Tommy Creo battles with death in all three time periods: the 16th century as a conquistador, the 21st century as a research oncologist, and in the 26th century as a space traveling monk. In each period Tommy defeats death and reaches immortality in ways beyond how we may define immortality.

In the 21st century Tommy Creo, as the research oncologist, is desperately trying to find a cure for his wife, Izzi Creo's, brain tumor through animal testing on rhesus monkeys. Even though she dies before he is able to save her he vows to rid humanity of the disease called death. At this point there is no room for acceptance, just a goal, with the help of science, to eradicate death from the Human experience. Religion’s role in the American public sphere is to help pacify fears of death and, for the most part, not seek to suppress modern science from improving our health and extending our lifespan like the Grand Inquisitor when he hunted down the heretics for pursuing the Tree of Life. Even though Tommy does indeed discover a cure from mortality he does not understand the consequences that mortality is a part of the natural process and by removing it we remove a part of our humanity.

In the 16th century Tomas, as the Conquistador, is sent by Queen Isabel to find the Tree of Life to liberate the world from tyranny. Although doubtful at first, Tomas fully believes that the Tree of Life would make him and Queen Isabel immortal. The Mayan priest tells Tomas during their confrontation that, "First Father sacrificed himself for the Tree of Life" and when the priest recognizes that Tomas is an incarnation of First Father he offers himself as a sacrifice stating that "we shall be immortal. Our blood shall feed the Earth." By drinking from the tree Tomas gains immortality not by living forever but by dying and releasing his essence to create new life. This is far from the Western description of immortality which is more about personal self gratification and greed than willingly giving up your life so others can live. But also, at the same time, Humanity does hold on to the principles of caring for those of the next generation. Just about everything in society is done to help preserve and keep Mankind from extinction, so that our actions and work live on through the next generation after we pass on.

In the 26th century Tom, the space traveling monk, is headed towards a distant dying nebula traveling with an aging tree in an ecospheric spaceship. He is taking a Tree of Life, which is carrying Izzi's essence (or soul), to Xibalba, the dying nebula representing the Mayan underworld, so that he and Izzi will be reborn. I believe although Tom, who eats from the tree to keep him alive throughout his 500 year journey, has achieved immortality he wants to die. He is tired of living and wants to be reborn with his wife when the nebula explodes so that their essence becomes one with the Universe. By doing this they will truly live forever but he fears it. Tom represents Man's fear and awe of death knowing that if he does not conquer death it will claim him. He can delay death for 500 years but in the end there is only one avenue of salvation for Tom and that is to calm his fear, finish his mission and accept death, both that of his wife's and his own.

Rami: Very clear synopsis, by the way. It is a complicated film but you map it out clearly. Thanks.

It is a complicated but a very beautiful film. I recommend it to anyone that hasn't seen it yet.

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