This is a magnificent film, there’s no question about it. But whether one will absolutely adore it or just love it, I think entirely depends on whether that certain someone has watched The Darjeeling Limited and Bottle Rocket before or after experiencing Life Aquatic. In other words, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou holds the number one spot in everyone’s heart until their life takes this unexpected turn towards the even more beautiful and meaningful madness that the other two films possess. Judging any Wes Anderson film independently from Bottle Rocket and The Darjeeling Limited has proven to be difficult, at least for me, but it is certainly worth a try, since on its own, Life Aquatic stands as a work of art.
If you tend to approach life rationally, then stay away from Life Aquatic. But if you just accept things, allow them to exist for their beauty and quirkiness and love the idea of escaping without over-thinking, you might have found your favourite film. Written by Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach, this colourful movie tells the story of Steve Zissou (Bill Murray), a Jacques Cousteau-inspired oceanographer who embarks on a sea journey of revenge in order to kill the jaguar shark (and not tiger fish as some like to call it) that ate his best friend (Seymour Cassel).
His crew is as odd and vibrant as the story itself, beautifully matching the colours of the sets and the feel of the dialogue. It includes his ex-wife (Anjelica Huston), his son who he only now sees for the first time in his life (Owen Wilson), the German second-in-command Klaus Daimler (Willem Dafoe), a pregnant journalist (Cate Blanchett), a Sikh cameraman (Waris Ahluwalia), a script topless girl (Robyn Cohen), the original score composer (Noah Taylor), a few minor members and unpaid interns (Don’t point that gun at him, he’s an unpaid intern. – Steve Zissou), and of course Pelé, the safety expert who sings David Bowie songs in Portuguese (Seu Jorge).
Yes, this is a dream. Or a children’s book. Or a weird trip. Depends how you see it. No matter what you call it, it’s beautiful, funny and extremely clever. The cast should be mismatched and the actors should be out of their comfort zones, judging based on what we’ve seen them do in the past. However that’s not the case. They all work together at a perfect pace, they offer genuine comedy and manage to balance quirk and credibility in their performances with incredible ease. No one feels fake; no one seems to be pushing too hard. In fact, it feels like you have put a group of serious and well-respected actors in a funny, colourful boat and set them free to express themselves as they wish and do and say as they please.
All this, while Wes Anderson wraps them in pastel colours and films them. And while David Bowie’s constantly playing in the background, either in English or in Portuguese. The result is dreamy, poetic and absurd, lacking any logical sequence. Life Aquatic feels like the product of a crazy but genuine impulse, of a number of people who unexpectedly got together to join their eccentricity and hilarious madness in order to accommodate a romantic filmmaker, who happens to be even more insane than they are. A simple — it seems — recipe to create a brilliant film that one can watch over and over again, without ever really getting all the “jokes” and always finding a certain appeal in trying to figure out what is meant as a joke and what is really just a line.
Some will in fact wonder when it is appropriate to laugh. Well, the good thing with Life Aquatic is that you will be justified to smile or even burst out laughing at any point you choose. The screenplay and the way its dialogue is performed by the entire cast, but especially Bill Murray and Owen Wilson, offers such low-key comedy, mixed with bizarre romance and absurdity, that a chuckle at any time is plausible. Bill Murray’s gentle sadness and ironic detachment is more than entertaining from beginning to end. His sarcastic melancholy together with Owen Wilson’s vulnerability and polite passivity, create something emotional, romantic and affectionate that struggles to stay alive in this crazy world these characters have created. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou has a distinct atmosphere, which is created somewhere between serious personal and professional crises and extreme silliness. And Wes Anderson is once again out of control.
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou at IMDb
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou at Wikipedia
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou at Rotten Tomatoes
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (awards won and nominated for) at IMDb
Ben McLeod’s art on The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou