Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

Seen: On dvd on my Seattle friends' projector set-up, from their collection.

I'll always remember The Life Aquatic as the first independent movie I actively sought out in a theater. I went with my friend AJ, and we were the youngest people there by a few decades, and we guffawed like crazy while those around us didn't laugh much, and we felt like we were both in on some secret, awesome joke, and it was all so grown-up. Then this movie's soundtrack got me into David Bowie, so all in all a pretty important film for my formative teen years. The plot concerns the trials and tribulations of Steve Zissou (Bill Murray), a once-respected marine scientist, explorer, and filmmaker who embarks on a quest to kill the mysterious tiger shark that killed his best friend. He assembles a motley crew for the voyage, including his newfound possible son, Ned (Owen Wilson), his possessive first mate Klaus (Willem Dafoe), a pregnant reporter (Cate Blanchett), a company stooge (Bud Cort) to keep an eye on spending, and a hoard of unpaid interns. Various mishaps and tragedies befall them, but Steve is committed to avenging his friend.

This is of course another example of Wes Anderson making a Wesandersony movie, which I don't think is a bad thing since I like his movies. There is an insane attention to detail, a wealth of personality affectations, delightful miniatures, lovely imagery, and a groovy soundtrack (embellished with Portuguese Bowie covers by Seu Jorge). He adds a dash of surrealism with fantastic stop-motion sea creatures from Henry Selick, and some unexpected action sequences involving pirates. Like pretty much all of his films, the narrative is scattered and somewhat episodic, relying more on character and atmosphere to propel itself forward. The script is funny and a little weird, and the cast is of course phenomenal.

You really can't go wrong with a sad Bill Murray, who fully embodies the title character. He's the right amount of self-deprecating humor and asshole narcissism, tinged with traces of former glory and a life riddled with regrets. Steve Zissou is a dick, no question, and often hard to sympathize with, but he maintains a charismatic hold on those around him and the audience can't help but go along with it, especially when flashes of an underlying heroism reveal themselves. It's too bad he continually makes homophobic and misogynist comments, though. It'd be nice if that didn't have to happen.

I've long held The Life Aquatic as one of my favorite Wes Anderson movies, but it had been many years since I'd seen it. I still think it's great, but not as great as I remembered. I feel like I can better see through Anderson's veneer of hipness, and while his deftness with character and emotional depth remains strong, there are narrative and pacing flaws that seem more apparent. Of course, it's still a hilarious, sad, exciting, and beautiful film. I would expect no less.


Pair This Movie With: My boyfriend suggests The Limits of Control because "It's got a quest, and Bill Murray!" which I think is reason enough!


  1. One of my all time favourite movies. Love it.

    Such a sad ending. :(

  2. I still like this film no matter how flawed it is. I went to a special free screening for Xmas eve and it was one of the weirdest ones I attended. Largely because of the mixed reaction the film got once it ended. People were like... "what the hell did I just see?"

  3. I absolutely love this movie... and I have the Team Zissou apparel to prove it.

  4. I was interested in this film years ago when it first appeared in theaters, but was never overly motivated to go and see it. Lately, I've noticed there seems to be a small trend of bloggers reviewing this film so I may finally give it a view. From what I can see concerning the cast, the humor in this film surely looks intriguing!