The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
2004Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett
irector Wes Anderson’s films are not easily described. Plot exposition seems to miss the mark. Perhaps the most striking quality of his work is a whimsy that comes with acceptance of the good and bad in life. And that bittersweet air is well complimented by the presence of Bill Murray. Murray is Anderson’s muse, of sorts, a brilliantly funny man whose comic alacrity is equaled by the profound sadness of his puppy-dog eyes. With The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Murray and Anderson have expanded on their smaller collaborations in The Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore; scarcely a frame of The Life Aquatic goes by without its centerpiece, Murray’s weathered mug.
Murray plays Steve Zissou, a cut-rate sea adventurer whose once respected career has hit a prolonged slump. In one of his more vulnerable moments Zissou offers, “I know I haven’t been at my best this decade,” but his introspection is much more often trumped by caustic defensiveness. At first brush, Zissou is, simply put, a bad person. His character is best described as vain, insecure, inconsiderate, jealous and self-important. He has a penchant for calling underlings by their title rather than bothering to learn their Christian names, and seems to accomplish little more than rolling fairly impressive spliffs, which he rarely shares. But, in a continuation of a theme from earlier Anderson films, Zissou, with some serious self-examination and work, moves from the category of “reprehensible” to “loved despite great faults.”
Devo's manager informs them that the record label will not be renewing their contract.
The impetus for Zissou’s character transformation is his introduction to Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson), a thirty year old airline pilot who may or may not be Zissou’s illegitimate son. The two men form an odd bond; both have an interest in developing a relationship but neither has much of an idea how to proceed. Zissou invites Plimpton to join his crew in their quest to exact revenge for the untimely death of Esteban, his closest friend (bully for you if you managed to avoid the trailer containing this information).
Of course, the intended voyage of revenge becomes more a voyage of personal exploration. Zissou and Plimpton’s relationship is tested by various conflicts, including a shared love interest (Cate Blanchett’s character), and is ultimately molded into something much more genuine than a thirty-something longing for a father and a fifty-something longing to be worshipped.
I really hope she doesn't notice the bulge...either one of them, actually.
However, like all of Anderson’s films, the emotional burden shouldered by characters is offset by offbeat humor and fleeting moments of exhilaration. Both are exemplified in Zissou’s reaction to danger, which is peculiar to say the least. Also adding to the more fun pieces of The Life Aquatic are Anderson’s typically excellent musical choices. While not quite as varied and great as those in The Royal Tenenbaums, the songs serve this most recent film well.
The Life Aquatic is a very characteristic Wes Anderson flick, and one criticism of his work as a whole is that it can be too thematically consistent. Some are of the belief that if you have seen one of his films, you’ve seen them all; the events and characters change, but the idea is the same. If you consider yourself in this camp, The Life Aquatic will not change your mind, but if you have not yet grown tired of Anderson’s style and interests, the film should be very satisfying. Yes, there are some changes, with even more attention paid to set design and visual eccentricity, and more reliance on the lead’s performance for comedic relief than written bits, but at its core, The Life Aquatic envelopes the viewer in the secure glow of melancholy and beauty endemic to the work of Wes Anderson.
By: Kevin Worrall
Published on: 2005-01-03