“Yeah, it’s pretty great, isn’t it? I wonder if he remembers me.”
Ahoy, my red-capped sailors! Aidan here.
I’m not exactly a Wes Anderson nut.
He’s made some fascinating films, for sure. But with a style as niche as his, Anderson’s films can often charm for only so long before they overstay their welcome.
At his finest, however, Wes Anderson is masterful – his best films possess the rare ability to remind you why you love movies, while prompting poignant introspection in a way that only great cinema can.
With The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Anderson finds a perfect balance of kitsch and emotion, quirk and humanity. It’s a strange, funny, fast-moving odyssey through the life of a man who’s having trouble living up to what everyone expects of him. It’s imaginative and adventurous enough to thrill, but emotionally grounded enough to connect with you. That’s a mark of great storytelling.
For all these reasons and more, it’s my personal favorite film of all time.
Bill Murray stars as the eponymous Steve Zissou, an aging oceanographer who sets out to exact revenge on the mythic “Jaguar shark” that ate his partner Esteban during the filming of their most recent underwater documentary. On his odyssey for vengeance, Zissou and his eccentric crew encounter ruthless pirates, a one-legged dog, a pregnant reporter, and a young fighter pilot (Owen Wilson) who may or may not be Zissou’s son.
But does the jaguar shark even exist? Why did Ned reappear in Steve’s life now? Whose baby is in the reporter’s stomach?!
Bill Murray’s performance is monumental yet understated, and like many of cinema’s great performances (Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight), it transcends simple lines of dialogue. He embodies the character with a melancholy meta-realism that’s reminiscent (but not derivative) of his turn in Lost in Translation. He is hilarious, sad, realistic, and fun to watch.
And he’s dapper in a red cap.
Owen Wilson’s Ned is charming and innocent. Cate Blanchett’s pregnant reporter Jane is appropriately tough and sensitive, and the entire crew of the Belafonte works against each other brilliantly. Some surprise casting choices pop up here and there – far be it from me to spoil them for you. The film switches between hilarious and melancholy with ease, a really difficult cinematic feat to pull off.
I think people are turned off by the lack of comfortability or structure offered by The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou – it’s unrelentingly honest in the way its characters work, think, and feel. The film is fun and quirky, but reminds me of Little Miss Sunshine in that it pulls no emotional punches and makes people squirm because of it.
Perhaps that’s the reason reactions to the film are mixed. A lot of people cite its storybook aesthetic as a negative distraction, but turn around and praise Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom for the exact same thing.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is emotionally raw enough to unnerve many, and especially when it’s masked under the guise of a playful ocean adventure, it takes you by surprise.
But that’s why I love it. And that’s why I love movies.
See you next week with another installment of Movies That Deserve More Love!
Until then…. go catch that jaguar shark.