← Back to Reviews

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
- 8

Steve Zissou is a reputed oceanographer. After the documentary screening of his last expedition where he lost a close friend, Zissou publicly announces the intent to document another journey where he aims to destroy the presumable Esteban's assassin--a so-called "Jaguar shark." The scientific purpose of this expedition is "Revenge." Soon after, he and his crew will embark on a new ordeal, marked by personal revelations and bizarre setbacks, until they are face-to-face with the daunting creature. I noticed that critics, in general, nurture weak appreciation for this movie; as a result of an insanity outbreak, I suppose. The style is not for everyone, true, but they should know better than judge a movie merely by its surface. The most ridiculous is that when those philistines criticize this particular work, they necessarily criticize the whole cinematic system of Wes Anderson, i.e., they bad-mouth the same thing that they laud in his cinema. It shocks me a little because I think this is his most characteristic work. This is the clearest expression of the director's cinematic DNA before Moonrise Kingdom. In my opinion, this brings only good things and automatically prevents this movie from falling into redundancy. Surely, there is always the chance that I'm the real lunatic here, but in defense of my ego, I declare myself the sole and absolute voice of reason.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou shares the typical plot with other Wes' movies--the characters' path is equally liberating and reconciling--but on the aspects that juice up the cinematic experience, this movie seems the most uncompromising to me. Starting by the central character, oceanographer Steve Zissou. My favorite character in Wes universe; the oddity subverted in his gestures, attitudes and quirks, make him a fascinating and hilarious caricature. He endures a conturbed period in his life--he watched a friend die at the jaws of a shark, and then runs into his presumable son, Ned Plimpton, for the first time--balancing the gag-inducing charm with an equal dose of drama. I think Bill Murray did an excellent job playing this complex and sentimental goon. I also enjoy the reporter, Jane Winslet-Richardson--played by Cate Blanchett--who has a caustic relationship with the oceanographer, and an affair with his (pseudo)son.

We see something rare in a Wes' plot: one of the main characters, Ned, dies; absentee until the end. This, among other things, reinforces the dichotomy between comedy and drama, happiness and suffering. The bittersweet flavor is stronger in this movie compared to the others, except Moonrise Kingdom. The fleeting nature of some personas, something that haunts me forever in Wes' cinema, also seems more evident here. But this is probably a reflection of my own lunacy. The sea theme is nicely explored, in my opinion; the animated sequences don't come across as a sign of technical limitation, on the contrary, I feel the cinematic experience is more rewarding thanks to it. Technically, this movie showcases the usual standards of Wes; there's just more playfulness here. The cinematography of Zissou documentaries is charming and nostalgic; I wish that the real adventure was dressed up like this as well. The soundtrack has a few brilliantly hilarious moments, just like Rushmore; both movies are equally generous and intelligent laugh wise. Typically formal camera work as expected.

Sweetly awkward, silly fun, bittersweet; potentially pointless and dull-witted for insane minds. This is one of his most eccentric and colorful works. There's no way to dislike The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou for those who enjoy the cinema of Wes Anderson. Although all his movies follow the same basic formula, each one leaves me with a unique impression. I enjoyed this movie as much as any other work from Wes, recommended!