...and I emphasize "film" because that is exactly what we have here -- the musical counterpoint to a motion picture. Being a pretty avid fan of the orchestral works that give life to their respective films, I've had a lot of chances over time to experience the contrast that exists between a score's function within a film, and a score as presented on album, as a separate musical entity dismembered entirely from the imagery it accompanies.
For me, Mansell's 'The Fountain' is truly special because, like so very few film scores, it is able to retain a sense of lucidity in the midst of its abandonment from Aronofsky's film. Granted, I found the film, visually, to be utterly stunning and unique; its images often powerful enough, on their very own, to evoke an uncommonly strong emotional response. Thus, the question that might be contemplated will be whether or not Mansell's score is in itself truly a work of greatness, or perhaps just a good score that happens to service a work of "visionary" (truly applicable) genius. And yet, there is really no way to answer this, because in the context of the film, Mansell's score, just as much as any other element, is an unrelenting force that propels and enhances each and every emotion being felt. I do believe, without any doubt in my mind, that 'The Fountain', as an album -- listened to without being acquainted with the film -- will not impress, nor affect, to any degree like that of someone who's absorbed the various ideas and sentiments gathered in experiencing the film. This, in many cases, could serve an argument in disfavor of Mansell's score as an illustrious composition, for I've heard a great deal of scores that, musically, are equally as potent an experience (often even more so) than that of their fusion with an un-scored film. To me, 'The Fountain' proves the exact opposite -- the only reason it works so well as an ALBUM is because the associations it so effortlessly evokes -- so intimately inborn to the images it nourishes -- are, literally, at the very hand [mind;ears;heart] of the listener who's experienced its intentions within the proper context. While I've seen this declaration thrown about a million times in reference to a film's score, 'The Fountain' stands at the very highest plane of that specific inclination.
This is an emotional score. On my first (and only) viewing of the film, much evaded my mind, but an affection that stayed intact amidst the confusion was that of a piercing to my heart. Much of the music on here brings tears to my eyes, and I don't mean to use that in the trivial sense; when I hear "Stay With Me" (which actually appears several times in the film), the image of Tommy, alone in his "bubble" amidst the vastness of space -- desperately clinging to The Tree of Life as its spirit slowly dissipates -- breaks my heart with its hopeful yearning crushed by a sense of devastating loss. During this, and other scenes in the film, Aronofsky so beautifully halts the pace, demanding a true ingestion of the feelings swirling around in ones head, and heart. Likewise, Mansell's score follows the same formula -- it is sublimely reflective, by which a sense of beauty and resonance develop; from that pensive but free-willed expression, a desperate affinity devours the soul.
Mansell's instrumentation is generally simple -- solitary strings and piano permeate amongst a celestial, bounteous ambiance -- a tact that provides at once a spatial isolation and (courtesy the weeping strings and tender, heartfelt piano), amidst that, a contrasting empathy for Tom and his universally Human quests in life, amidst such fateful circumstance. When its not floating in a pool of idle meditation, it remains melodic and, in its more driven moments, passionate and emotive a different kind of level -- a resilient crusade for more -- for IT. No track demonstrates this better than "Death is the Road to Awe", which also accompanies the most overwhelming montage in the film's (late) climax -- in the one moment of down-and-out orgasm, Mansell employs an absolutely impeccable use of chorale burst amongst a score that, until this point, had so respectfully restrained from anything close to that level of bombast. Because of this, and the cue's particular significance to Tom and his glorious moment of "awe" -- I am drenched in a final, loving relief -- an exalted feeling that follows the preceding hope, fear, and tragedy that has forever dwelled inside him, and the score; this moment usually makes me cry.
I'm rambling, and forgetting the limited word count.
See the film, then buy this album.