The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (Anderson, 2004)

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The image above represents the wonderful visual creativity on display in Wes Anderson’s marine epic The Life Aquatic With Steve Zizzou. Anderson and animator Henry Selick create some brilliantly surreal underwater creatures that pop with color and personality, giving momentary glimpses into a unique and layered existence beneath the surface. If only their human counterparts matched this sort of vibrancy and intimacy.

The script, co-written by Anderson and Noah Baumbach, has little use for a connective narrative, reverting stock characters into drones of past Anderson incarnations without much depth or sincerity. The film meanders along for nearly two hours, shelling out standard Anderson wit like it’s on indefinite quirky auto-pilot. Bill Murray’s lead performance is admirable, especially in the sad final moments when he transcends the catch phrases and sheds a few tears in honor of his fallen son Ned (Owen Wilson). The Life Aquatic isn’t a bad film, nor a terribly interesting one at that (a first for Anderson), making the beautiful but hollow end result all the more frustrating.

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3 thoughts on “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (Anderson, 2004)

  1. Yes, another comment on an old, long forgotten post, but I just discovered your blog and, with your recent and favorable revisiting of The Darjeeling Limited I wonder how a revisit of this one would come across. I think it very easily could, and a friend of mine recently had a very dramatic shift in outlook after revisiting it, but I can’t say for sure. It has many of the same comedic rhythms and anti-comedy as The Darjeeling Limited, although I think that film is a sort of ‘more humanistic’ response to this which is far less humanistic. In a lot of ways it is the exact antithesis of Rushmore – it focuses on a once successful older man who acts far younger than his age and learns to be at peace who is slowly falling out of the only relationship he’s ever known, as opposed to a perpetually unsuccessful young man who acts far older than his age and struggles to cope with failing to engage in a relationship with the only woman he’s ever loved. If you’re willing to buy into the artifice of Max Fisher I think you’ll be able to stomach the artifice of Steve Zissou, although I don’t think it’s all too similar to The Darjeeling Limited. People who are so disdainful of it do puzzle me, although it seems that they expect something more epic, more humanistic out of what is essentially Rushmore 2.0, now with bigger toys (for both protagonist and director) and more adventure (which continues in The Darjeeling Limited). Anyway, I encourage you to give it a go, although having just read your review of L’avventura I am tempted to say, “Forget The Life Aquatic – watch L’avventura again!” Maybe double feature. Now that’s a real litmus test. Take no prisoners, I say.

  2. Hey Jean – I’ve revisited LIFE AQUATIC multiple times hoping to like it more. But it’s the one Anderson that I can’t buy in to. Just too little substance and too much surface level coldness. But your points comparing/contrasting these Anderson films are spot on. I’m so happy you’ve taken the time to read my stuff. Keep the comments coming!

  3. I can definitely understand that – I could barely stand The Royal Tenenbaums or Fantastic Mr. Fox and barely remember anything, and nothing good, about Bottle Rocket, and yet Rushmore and The Life Aquatic are two of my favorite films. Very odd. I’ll continue commenting, especially when I get around to Skolimowski in the hopefully not too distant future. I was surprised and happy to see a plethora of pieces on his work as I’m quite enamored with Polish film, hence the RZEJ of Andrzej – particularly Zulawski, but I won’t begrudge Wajda or any other unknowns.

    I discovered your blog a couple days ago and noticed that you were from San Diego and then noticed the post about Boonmee and bought my ticket – is there any website you know that details the latest goings-on in screenings in the area or do you simply know of everything because you teach the subject? Being out of the loop is no fun, especially when the arthouse cinemas keep themselves filled with Girl With a Dragon Tattoo… That’s enough digression for now, keep up the good work!

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