Friday, September 28, 2007

Death's Cure

“The Fountain”

*I watched a movie called “The Fountain.” It’s about a man, a medical researcher, whose wife is dying because of a tumor in her brain. He is working on a new medicine that will stop and shrink the tumor. She dies just minutes before he is informed that the last experiment worked. He has been obsessed—frantically obsessed—with his research to develop a cure for this brain tumor. At her funeral, he says that “Death is a disease like any other, and there’s a cure for it. I will find that cure.” After she dies, he becomes obsessed with finding a cure for death.

It’s a rather surreal movie, passing from scenes in his “real” life, to surreal scenes in his mind, and then to scenes from this book his wife was writing about Spain and the Inquisition. After she dies, the man sees in his mind-world his wife alive and well. He is overcome with grief, and when he looks up at her again, she is the Queen of Spain who has sent him to find the Lost Pyramid of the Mayans which contains the secret source of immortality—the lost Tree of Life from Eden. The Queen tells him that he will find this, that he knows where it is. His wife, just before she died, had asked him to write the last chapter of the book. He said he didn’t know the ending. She said that he did know and he will know. In this surreal mind-world, the Queen changes from the Queen to his wife saying these words and back again to the Queen.

As I watched this movie, I kept thinking how completely it describes man’s condition.
Archetypally speaking, a man’s wife, or a country’s queen, represents symbolically the man’s anima, or soul. Now, if we can say that Spain represents this man’s world, and the Queen of Spain represents this man’s soul, I think we can understand this movie a bit better. This man is completely unable to accept death, either his wife’s or his own. This inability to accept the inevitable is the fuel for his frantic obsession to find a cure for death. In a way that he does not know, he is right. Real Death is a disease, and it is curable. But it’s a disease of the spirit and the cure is spiritual. The disease and the cure are spiritual, and physical disease and death continue as long as man lives on this earth. Man was not created to die, but he turned away from Life and allowed Death to enter the world. This turning away from Life is the spiritual sickness that causes death. Therefore, turning TOWARD Life is the cure for death. Turning toward God brings us to Life just as surely as continually walking east keeps the sun in our faces. Any turning to the right or left, and the sun is no longer in our faces, only darkness. This is the “medicine,” the cure this man so frantically sought. If he could only know.

In the last section of the movie, he replays in his mind a scene from the beginning of the movie in which his wife calls him to come walk with her in the first snow of the season, because that is their custom. He is too busy, and declines. Except now, at the end, after she has died, in his replay of this scene, he follows her out into the snow, but when he catches up with her, the scene switches to his surreal mind-world and his wife becomes the tree that is in that mind-world of his. He climbs this tree to the top and continues on higher, floating through space. As he floats he assumes the cross-legged “lotus position” so common to eastern meditation. (Man intuitively knows that all the answers to life’s questions are spiritual, but he cannot envision Truth in the fake spirituality of the mostly protestant Christianity of this world, so he turns to the east. It’s ironic how in his desperation he intuitively turns toward the east.) The scene switches again to the search for the lost Mayan temple. Just as he finds the way there, he is confronted by the temple guard and attacked. He is wounded in this attack, but suddenly he is no longer the Spanish conquistador; he is the meditating monk floating in mid-air in the lotus position. The temple guard immediately kneels, asks forgiveness, says “We will be immortal,” and offers his throat to be cut. He becomes the Conquistador again and cuts the guard’s throat. Then he enters the temple and sees the Tree of Life growing in the middle of a square lake. The number four, and the square, represent wholeness.

To my way of thinking, this scene in which he becomes the “meditating monk” symbolically represents that we cannot access Truth until we become apathetic, not the “I don’t care” type of apathy, but the apathea, or dispassion, of which the ancient Church Fathers speak. Now, this movie, to be perfect, should have ended here, but it didn’t.

He walks on top of the water (of course, having achieved perfection) to the tree. He stabs the tree with his dagger, and white sap flows out. He touches it, and a drop of the sap falls from his fingers to the ground from which immediately springs a blossoming plant. This blossoming plant hearkens back to an earlier scene in the movie in which he says his wife will live and blossom again. He puts the sap on his wound, and it heals. He goes a little nuts here, tears the dagger out of the tree, cups his hands to catch the flowing sap, and channels it into his mouth. Then the tree groans, and a blinding light appears. He sees his queen in this light, and she reaches to put a ring on his finger. Somehow the ring falls onto the ground. He freaks and falls. As he is freaking out and lying there, his wound reopens and the same flowering plant grows out of him that grew out of the ground when he dropped the tree’s sap. He tears at the plant, trying to get it out of himself, but it grows faster than he can tear. Soon it is growing out of every part of him, and he becomes only a man-shaped patch of this flowering plant on the ground.

The scene switches again. We see the ring on the ground, and the man picks it up. He is in his “meditating monk” form, bathed in blinding light. He holds the ring up and looks at it. (A ring, or circle, is a symbol of eternity and completeness.) Finally, he places the ring on his finger, and is immediately catapulted up and he becomes the tree, which has a fruit on it--a round, prickly fruit which reminds me of the prickly seed-pods of a sweetgum tree, but that’s neither here nor there. We see his wife pick this fruit off the tree and hand it to the man. He looks at it puzzlingly.

Then the scene changes again. The man is standing in the snow by his wife’s grave. He digs through the snow and plants the seed on top of her grave. He stands and looks up into the sky and sees a new star, or nebula, shine out. Then in his mind he again whispers to his dying wife that “everything is alright.”

These last scenes seem to me to represent mankind’s lack of true understanding, his insistence that he can “get it right” and “fix it” all by himself. He should have just stopped when he found Truth, instead of trying to interpret it and use it for himself.

*This was hastily written, and it sure could use a LOT of polishing up and expanding, but my purpose was only to get my basic thoughts down—not create some perfectly written piece. Many symbols and scenes were merely glossed over.

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