Cinematic complexion and “feeling” colour: The Fountain
by Toby Woollaston
I have explained in my previous posts the significance of cinematic colour complexion to aid the spectator’s ability to “feel” films. You can read my entire thesis on Aronofsky and phenomenology by following this link. Here I will illustrate this using the colour signature and colour barcode of Darren Aronofsky’s third feature film, The Fountain (2006). This signature and barcoding technique offers a concise visualisation of a film’s dominant colours. The colour signature (the solid bar above the barcode) is a consolidation of all the colours used in a film and serves to distinguish a film’s propensity to lean towards a particular hue. The signature is broken down into the RGB (red, green, blue) colour-space and the values represent the brightness of each hue (the higher the number the brighter the hue). The colour barcodes (below the colour signature) represents the colour of each frame in the film. Each frame has been captured and squeezed into a strand of colour. When the colours are placed side-by-side chronologically, the result reads like a colour barcode of the film. Starting from the beginning of the film at the left, the barcode can be read as a colour timeline and indicates the dominant colours for large portions of the film.
The Fountain has the darkest complexion of the colour films studied here, as indicated by the lower colour signature values. The significantly lower blue value confirms the film’s propensity towards golden and earthy hues. Unlike Requiem for a Dream‘s changing hue, The Fountain only changes the brightness of the same hue. Furthermore, The Fountain‘s colour palette operates in the opposite temporal direction to Requiem for a Dream‘s undulating descent towards the winter of addiction. As the title suggests, the The Fountain thematically explores ascent rather than descent as is immediately apparent in the barcode’s increasing brightness from left to right. It achieves this structure through various methods. The theme of ascent is illustrated through the progression of multiple narrative arcs: Tomas’ (Hugh Jackman) progress through his quest, the completion of Izzi’s (Rachel Weisz) book, and Tom’s progress towards Xibalba. There are also visual motifs that support this theme: Tomas’ ascent of the Mayan pyramid, Tommy and Izzi’s constant gaze towards the heavens, and Tom’s vertical (as opposed to horizontal) ascent through space. These motifs dramatically illustrate the film’s progression from dark into light. However, these thematic markers require immediate cognitive assessments on the part of the spectator. Consider Tom’s ascent towards Xibalba. His journey towards this dying star represents his journey towards accepting death. The journey lasts for the entire film, and, as the spectator, I am cognisant of his progression due to narrative clues contained within the film’s script, paired with visual clues, such as stars flying vertically past the spaceship. However, the feeling of ascent is strengthened through the treatment of colour. The Fountain‘s colour barcode clearly illustrates the film’s ascent from darkness towards light. This gradual treatment of colour is something that the spectator is not immediately cognisant of. Through the use of colour, The Fountain helps the spectator to feel the theme of ascent non-cognitively, and therefore phenomenologically.