Teresa and I enjoy our occasional movie nights with Netflix. I like to get the Blu-Ray movies for the PS3, but the selection isn’t awe-inspiring yet. Case in point is this piece of trash from 2006. I understand that it more-or-less bombed in the theaters, losing the studio a lot of money. I totally see why, though the reviews of it that I’ve read don’t begin to get into what a terrible movie this was. There were comparisons with other Director’s Dreams Gone Horribly Wrong, like Lady in the Water. I wasn’t a big fan of that one, either, but it’s really unfair to put them in the same boat.
This film’s premise is laudable – that we shouldn’t be afraid to die, and that death isn’t just a part of life, but actually a rebirth. It mixes all manner of religious imagery to get that point across – basically everything but Judaism, Islam, and Kazakh Shamanism make an appearance, religiously speaking. That’s all well and good, and I’m willing to admit that director Aronofsky paid close attention in that Comparative Religion course he took in school. But the story isn’t just poorly told — it’s horrid. If you watch closely enough to follow the threads, pulled apart as they are by flash-cuts and costume changes, you’re rewarded with the most confusing picture of history ever created. In short, not one of the historical settings is plausible in any way. The film takes an arbitrary number of years and divides the players – 500 years, in this case – between scenes in 1500, 2000, and 2500 years after the birth of Christ. The roles are essentially the same – Hugh Jackman as the hard-working hero who ceaselessly fights death, and Rachel Weisz as the dynamic female interest, at first afraid of death, than embracing it, and finally only existing as hallucination to Future Hugh. Let’s break them down:
1500 AD – Spain and New Spain
This is just bizarre beyond the words. The director mentions in the commentary that the set is Seville and New Spain – aka, Spain and Central America. Jackman and Weisz play a Conquistador and a reigning Sovereign, respectively. Right off the bat, someone with a little background in world history can see that the Spanish set, the palace of “Seville,” is copied exactly from the famous mosque-turned-Cathedral in Cordoba. It wouldn’t take much to change the plot to
match the discrepancy, but if you just don’t care, let the art department do what they want. As for New Spain and the Conquistador, this is supposed to be 1500 AD – and New Spain doesn’t come into existence for another 30 years. In 1500 the very first contact between Spain and the New World hadn’t even happened, as Columbus first reaches Honduras in 1502, and he was no Conquistador, as the character in this film is named.
The Queen is apparently Isabella I (Isabel in Spanish), though she would have been almost 50 in 1500, so it’s shocking to see her played as young, beautiful, and
alone on the throne. In the film, the King is absent, and the Inquisition is being managed by the church against Spain, and Isabella is afraid to confront the church, lest all of Europe turn against her.
In Real Life, none of that is true. Isabella herself called for the Inquisition, though she was not alone. The rest of Europe
wouldn’t have cared either way, considering this was after the Reformation and the spread of Protestantism – it was this very fact that pushed the Pope in
Rome to allow the Inquisition of the recent Converts in the first place. Isabella I was a devout Catholic and considered herself as one of its most powerful defenders. With the reconquest of southern
Spain from the Muslims, she forced the expulsion or conversion of all the non-Catholics. The issue a
t hand was that Conversion was too easy, and too easily faked. It was the Converts that made Isabella and others nervous, as these former Jews and Muslims retained their power and wealth, without truly adhering to the laws of the Church. Whether or not that was true would make a much better movie, I think. Were the Inquisitors driven by greed for the wealth an
d importance of the Converts, or merely concerned with the state of their souls?
Can you tell which one was actually Queen of Spain? Both claim to portray Isabella I, circa 1500.
2000 AD – Somewhere in America
This is the least annoying part of the movie, but I know enough of medical studies to seriously doubt any University or Pharmaceutical Company would fund research headed by a doctor so personally involved with the subject. Jackman as the doctor repeatedly jeopardizes what is clearly years of work and millions of dollars in research, due to the sensitive nature of his wife’s terminal cancer and the “miracle cure” he is trying to prepare.
2500 AD – In space, en route to Xibalba, the Mayan Underword/Afterlife [really]
This was the weirdest piece of the movie, but the least distressing – it’s the future, right? Can’t knock the future.
In any event, it’s clear that Aronofsky didn’t get what he wanted, either. Originally the film was to star Brad Pitt opposite Cate Blanchett, which I think would have made the movie even more memorably awful. That fell apart, so he got Jackman and his real-life lover Weisz instead. If you want to see what truly awful film-making looks like, see this film. If you’re woefully ignorant of Spanish History, you’ll probably only be slightly annoyed, instead of royally pissed off. I didn’t even get to the portrayal of conspicuous minority figures in the supporting/traitorous roles… sigh…
I bet I would have liked this movie 10 years ago. Hey… isn’t that the last time I saw an Aronofsky film? And I loved it.