The Fountain Dude, a FLAMING SWORD? So unfair.

Let's dust off that old conundrum about trees falling in forests: If a tree falls in a forest, and no one's around to hear it, then I don't give a shit if it makes a sound or not.

In other words, cinema—and art in general—is only legit if an audience experiences it. Yeah, this is hardly fair; usually the worst films are the ones with the biggest audiences. But still: An audience's patronage is the only way to measure which art truly matters and which art is just masturbatory white noise. None of this bodes well for Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain, which is one of the year's most striking and original films—and one that will probably be seen by all of 14 people.

Like Aronofsky's exceptional films Pi and Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain is astounding, strange, jarringly imaginative, and people will either love it or hate it. There's a loose story that ranges from 16th century Spain to an abstract, sci-fi future, one that follows variations on two characters (played by Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz) through a thousand years. But here, themes and emotions are more important than plot: Obsession, love, and death are all paired with Aronofsky's abstract creepiness and his stunning, bizarre, and lush visuals.

The Fountain's a deeply affecting and involving film, but only if you go into it with appropriate expectations: Everything isn't going to make sense. The languid pace and emotional visuals take precedence over the film's story, and, at times, the film's characters. There's some goofy stuff in here along with all the great stuff. (If you do go in expecting something more traditional, prepare to hate The Fountain—at the Gresham screening I attended, at least three people walked out, and by the end credits, snickers and scoffs were the prevailing response.)

Obviously, The Fountain isn't everybody's cup of tea; the fact that the film's getting a wide release, even, is a fact as baffling as it is welcome. But I'll be checking out Aronofsky's strange, fascinating, and beautiful film again while it's still in theaters. Because the worst thing that could happen to The Fountain isn't some snickering Greshamite walking out of it. The worst that could happen is if no one goes to it in the first place.