Another favorite film full of profound insight on the ego and enlightenment is The Fountain, written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, starring Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz. This movie is absolutely visually stunning and Clint Mansell’s musical score created for it is concomitantly inspiring and beautiful. The Fountain depicts three separate stories that are nevertheless all intertwined through the storyline provided by Rachel Weisz’s character Izzy. Izzy is diagnosed with terminal cancer unless a cure can be found and her husband, Tommy (Jackman), happens to be a neurosurgeon who is trying to research a way to save her. As she prepares for her imminent death she writes a book titled, The Fountain about a conquistador (Jackman) searching for the tree of life in Guatemala in order to be united with the Queen of Spain (Weisz) and provide salvation for the country. Next we have the third character played by Jackman that seems to be representing his soul or spiritual ego that is seeking to uncover Truth/enlightenment through reflection on his past lives (seemingly Jackman’s other two characters we see, although it is alluded that there were many more). This character is traveling with the tree of life to the star Xibalba, which the Mayan’s believe is the underworld and where the soul goes to be reborn and inherit eternal life.
Allegory of Adam and Eve
“Therefore, the Lord God banished Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and placed a flaming sword to protect the tree of life.” – Genesis 3:24
To begin, it is worth taking a moment to discuss the allegory of Adam and Eve since it is brought up at the opening of the film. Simply and profoundly the story of Adam and Eve is depicting the fall of humanity’s consciousness into the duality of the ego. In other words, Adam and Eve were in a pure enlightened state of love and innocence as Divinity Self-Aware and thus were in the presence of God. This is referring to the fact that Adam and Eve were literally Divinity Self-Aware and thus were unaware of the fact that they were inhabiting a body that was in any way separate from Divinity/Love. In the enlightened state all is radically One and there are no divisions or separations relevant. The Creator and the created are one and the same – there are no subject and object relationships possible. Thus it was the eating of the tree of knowledge that then suddenly plummeted humanity’s consciousness into the lowest levels of conscious awareness represented as shame and guilt. Hence it is written in Genesis that Adam and Eve then became aware of the body and were ashamed, afraid, and covered/hid themselves due to entering into the illusions of duality, suffering, fear, and death.
From this point on the overall consciousness of humanity was extremely primitive, lesser evolved, and the vicious selfish ego was dominant. One need only briefly study human history to observe the extremely violent, carnal, and animalistic nature of humankind in comparison to peak cultures now, which only gives perfect credence to the evolution of consciousness. However, humanity’s potential has remained the same it is just a matter of awakening to it. It was only through the ancient mystics and avatars that the Truth of humanity’s true nature/potential emerged such as in the Vedas and later with the arrival of Lord Krishna, the Buddha, Jesus the Christ, Muhammad, Zoroaster, and other enlightened sages primarily throughout India. Although teaching styles and languaging has been varied, all Truth is equally the same, that is, transcend the ego/duality and awaken to eternal happiness and love as Divinity Self-Realized.
Getting back, this quote is misleading because Divinity didn’t ‘banish’ Adam and Eve, this implies a partial, angry God figure that is only a projection of a limited consciousness. A more appropriate interpretation is that through consequence Adam and Eve karmically chose/aligned their own fate by deciding to enter into the illusion/fall of duality. Divinity is not a judiciary, all choose their own fate. The flaming sword that is being referenced is Truth, for it is only Truth that brings one back to the tree of life as a representation of eternal life. Enlightenment is to realize eternal life and therefore it is Truth that facilitates all awakening.
The beginning of The Fountain
The film begins with the conquistador finding the tree of life but before he enters the final doorway a guardian reminds him, “The First Father sacrificed himself for the tree of life. Enter, and join his fate.” Then the guardian proceeds to seemingly kill the conquistador at which point the film flashes to the spiritual ego character who is in a full lotus meditative position, floating in space, and mentally reliving the experience. We then see that the spirit character is traveling with the tree of life as they make their way to Xibalba. In the beginning of the film one could notice that the spirit starts in the darkness of space with only the light of stars and as the film progresses, gets closer to the profound light of Xibalba which is a symbol for Truth/Enlightenment/Eternal Life.
In the mean time we can also note the spirit is surviving by slowly taking from the tree of life and eating of its bark. This is relevant to notice because it is symbolic of the spiritual ego refusing to accept its fate and resisting the inevitable as it tries to survive into eternity. This is a common fallacy of the spiritual ego because the personal self tries to survive enlightenment, which is an impossibility. Thus we see the spirit literally ‘taking’ from the tree of life and therefore crippling it. We also see that the spirit is constantly reminded by his soulmate and teacher, Izzy/Queen of Spain, to “finish it” which is in reference to her book but the true meaning is to awaken to enlightenment in order to live together forever. The spirit responds saying that he doesn’t know how it ends but then as he looks at his tattooed ring finger he surrenders and says, “alright, I trust you, take me… show me.”
The Weaving Storylines
With the stage/context set, let us analyze each character’s storyline for the wisdom that they each offer. For starters Izzy/the Queen is Tommy’s enlightened guru and soulmate. Knowing that her death is almost certain she begins to explore spiritual wisdom to find solace which attracts her to Mayan mythology, Xibalba, and the notion of “death as an act of creation”. After suffering a seizure from her brain tumor she awakens from the experience liberated from all fear of death. This is first alluded to as she wakes up and says to Tommy, “I’m close Tommy… I wasn’t afraid… when I fell, I was full… held” at which point he misinterprets her statement as him holding her physically when she fell. However, her real intention was that she was held by the Divine and realized that there is only eternal life. We see that she has compassion for Tommy from this point on because he’s so fiercely resisting the inevitable Truth. She even laughs at him and his persistence to ‘save her’ which she now knows is irrelevant. She has realized that “death is the road to awe” and asks Tommy to finish the last chapter of her book after she passes and tells him that he knows how it ends and it will come to him. She’s hinting at the fact that he eventually will awaken to enlightenment.
Izzy and Tommy’s last conversation
“I’m not afraid anymore Tommy…” (referring to death)
Tommy unable to handle this responds despondently, “I want you to be with me.”
To which Izzy replies, “I am with you, look [hinting at the obviousness of the present moment]…I’ll always be with you, I promise.”
In this last conversation we see Izzy’s enlightened awareness coming forth and her reminder of Truth that they will always be together, for there is never separation. Izzy’s enlightened awareness is like that of Eve in that she is returned to a state of liberation from duality and knows that the notion of separation from Tommy, Divinity, or anything in the universe is impossible. Thus, she is at peace and knows all fear and the notions of death and separation are illusions.
Tommy the neurosurgeon is obsessed with finding a cure for Izzy’s tumor and is unable to accept her possible death and separation from him. Here we see the classic attachment of the ego that is unable to accept the inevitability of its death and also Tommy’s inability to be present with Izzy and love the moments that he does have with her before she inevitably passes. Tommy offers us a passionate perspective on the complexity of ego attachment and profound love that can be intermixed and energized into it. Tommy’s obsession leads him to ignore discovering a reversal to aging and the ability to reverse neuron-degeneracy, among many other things, only because it doesn’t immediately help save Izzy. The irony is revealed that he did in fact uncover her cure but it isn’t realized until literally right after she passes.
At Izzy’s funeral we see how Tommy’s ego then shifts his energy and obsession to now trying to stop the ‘disease of death’ and that he will find a cure to it. This only further proves how Tommy’s ego is unable to accept its inevitable death as well as being stuck in the past and simply shifting investment to some new goal. We see the incredible pain that his attachment to Izzy brings as well as his sorrow and grief, especially as he reflects upon the fact that he lost his wedding ring from the beginning of the film. This is symbolic of him forgetting Truth and losing his sense of who he truly is by becoming consumed with anticipating the future rather than being present. Tommy then proceeds to tattoo a ring on his finger and then eventually returns to work with a fierce passion to cure ‘death’. However, as he does so, the power goes off and the perspective shifts to the spiritual ego.
The next time we see Tommy is after transcendence and he goes to Izzy’s grave and plants a seed over her body, according to her previously mentioned desire to do so.
Jackman as the Conquistador is the epitome of ambition/passionate dedication, desire, loyalty, and eventually greed. The conquistador was created by Izzy accenting Tommy’s fierce persistence and is meant to represent the archetype of the warrior/hero who will do whatever it takes to accomplish his goal. This leads him into a fearless pursuit to find the tree of life at all costs. His dedication causes him to have to fight his own men in self-defense due to mutiny because of their disbelief in him and thinking he’s gone mad and eventually he reaches the tree of life alone.
When he arrives we repeatedly see that he is presumably killed by the guardian of the tree, however at the end of the film, due to the spirit’s dedication and preparation for transcendence, the guardian suddenly recognizes the conquistador as the “First Father”. The conquistador then proceeds to the tree and is mesmerized by its splendor. He then selfishly takes of its sap and heals his wound inflicted by the guardian. After this he is overcome by greed for immortality and begins indulging in the sap carelessly until he is overcome by the vision of Xibalba. Soon after he then joins the fate of the First Father as the guardian had promised in the beginning of the film, and plants burst forth from his body and he becomes one with the earth once again. It could be noted that the ego’s greed will always lead to it’s own demise as demonstrated here.
The spiritual ego of Tommy is on his journey to enlightenment and is where we get to see the most profound messages of this film come forth. As mentioned, the spirit is traveling with the tree of life to Xibalba in order to inherit eternal life and live forever. He is recalling his past lives in order to learn what is necessary for him to awaken to enlightenment and his soulmate/enlightened guide is continuously keeping him on track and reminding him to “finish it”. We also get to see one of the biggest fallacies and pitfalls of transcending the spiritual ego that is the belief that it will live forever. In other words, the spiritual ego is trying to survive enlightenment. This is perfectly alluded to when the spiritual ego is talking to the tree of life, “Don’t worry, we’re almost there. Through that last dark cloud is a dying star. And soon enough, Xibalba will die, and when it explodes you will be reborn, you will bloom, and I will live.”
This shows perfectly how the spiritual ego at this point still hasn’t learned that enlightenment is only through the acceptance of the death of the personal, dualistic self at which point the True Self as All That Is can shine forth. As they reach Xibalba the tree has died and the spirit is mourning the fact that they “almost made it”. However, Izzy comes back and reminds him, yet again, “finish it”. In frustration, sadness, and defeat the spirit rebukes his guru and yells, “Stop it! What do you want!? Leave me, leave me alone! Please!…. [sobbing and quietly whispering] I’m afraid…” At which point Izzy shifts forms into the Queen reminding him, “Will you deliver Spain from Bondage?” The spirit confused replies, “I don’t know, I’m trying, I don’t know how…” She steadily and calmly reminds him, “You do… You will.” Then the Queen takes the form of Izzy and once again she calmly reminds him, “You do, you will”. It is at this point that the spirit reflects on memories of Izzy as well as her death, accompanied her words from their last conversation, “I’m not afraid anymore”. It is at this point transcendence is drawing nigh.
Suddenly it occurs to the spirit in a glorious yet humbling realization… “I’m going to die…” At which point Izzy smiles in a peaceful bliss at the profound realization that has finally occurred in her soulmate/student. The spirit repeats “I’m going to die” this time with increased happiness and joy coming forth as his humility turns into inner peace and serenity. Izzy then reminds him, “together we will live forever.” The spirit’s joy is apparent as he responds, “forever“. The Queen appears and repeats “forever” as the spirit gently laughs in reverence of the realization. The spirit then heads over to the tree of life and kneels at its trunk in reverence and says to it… “we will live forever”. Izzy appears for the final reminder, “finish it”. The spirit then responds “okay…”
The spirit then runs up the tree and floats above it into space heading towards the heart of Xibalba. He then positions himself yet again, into the full lotus meditative position and drifts closer to the heart of Xibalba. He takes the ring that he has been without the entire movie and places it back onto his finger. Again, this was symbolic of him losing himself, falling into the ego’s ensnarement and forgetting Truth. Thus, it is apropos that as a symbol of his enlightenment he places the ring back on as Truth is restored. It is at this point that Xibalba collapses and there is a moment of absolute darkness. This is symbolic of the last fleeting moment of the ego’s fears of nonexistence in which it falls into the void and nothingness of eternity. Then the fullness of Truth bursts forth and eradicates all last remnants of the spiritual ego as is perfectly depicted by the spirit being dissolved into the profound light and power of Xibalba’s rebirth. This is symbolic of the spiritual ego dissolving in order to only be replaced by the realization that the True Self is All That Is and thus we see the tree of life bloom with brilliance. Eternal life/Enlightenment is realized only through the dissolution of the personal, dualistic self. No ‘one’ becomes enlightened for there is no ‘person’ in the traditional sense left anymore. All dualistic identities and sense of ‘personhood’ has to be left behind, indeed it is in fact Divinity that takes the final step into the doorway of liberation. Hence it is often said that enlightenment is solely by the Grace of God, this is in fact Truth. Enlightenment is the humble realization that all ego attachments are a fallacy and based on limited belief systems pertaining to one’s true identity.
The Self, with a capital S signifying the Divine-Realized Self, is beyond all possible personalization, conceptualization, name, or description and is immortal and eternal in nature. The Immortal ‘I’ of the Self is radically subjective and formless yet innately within all form because it is the very source of all form. It can be likened unto the Dreamer (ultimate source and context/formlessness) of the dream (the universe and all life/form). Thus the Self is all encompassing, infinite, and the very substrate and source of All That Is – the Infinite Brahman. Thus at the dawning of enlightenment the limited ego self dissolves into the Infinite Self that was guiding all of life perfectly and was in fact the source and sustainer of the ego the entire ‘time’. The ego has actually always been an illusion it was just believed to be real because that is its con and trick on innocent consciousness. Consciousness is naive and thus fell into duality (alluded to in the allegory of Adam and Eve) in order to ‘eat of the tree of knowledge’. Knowledge as used is implying wisdom in the place of naivete and thus the truly enlightened have traversed through the realms of naivete – dualistic illusion, and have restored the liberated vision of Nonduality (‘Garden of Eden’).
Thus at the conclusion of the film this is all perfectly demonstrated by the ego literally dissolving into the tree of life as it blooms radiantly, symbolic of being reunited with the Truth of Nonduality. Existence is infinite and eternal while the ego is fleeting and limited and its demise is inevitable, hence the true power behind the liberating discovery of the spiritual ego prior to enlightenment ‘I’m going to die‘. In order to realize enlightenment one must be prepared to embrace and face ‘death’ at which point the ego has to surrender to its greatest fear of nonexistence in order for the True Self to be realized as that which is Immortal and never subject to demise. All suffering is only the result of the ego resisting its own surrender to the pure love of the True Self that is in fact behind and within All That Is. All fear is an illusion and a con of the ego to resist the inevitable realization of our Immortal Reality.
The movie ends with this profound conclusion of enlightenment and a vision of Tommy saying “I finished it” as we then see the previous scene of Tommy kissing Izzy’s neck as she asks, “is everything alright?” to which he replies, “yes, everything’s alright” and the movie concludes.
The Fountain is a artistically beautiful and profound depiction of enlightenment and I hope that this review and insight drawn from it will help in your own awakening. Thank you for reading.
Wishing us Peace and Love always,
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