The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou


Ok. Where to start? The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is a hard movie to get a hold of. Just when you think you have it pegged, Wes Anderson throws in something totally unexpected, and you’re off down another rabbit hole. (Not to mix metaphors, but it’s that kind of film.) Whether the whole shambles works or not is up to each viewer – for me, it didn’t quite hit it, but others have raved.

Steve Zissou is the Jacques Cousteau figure at the centre of this bizarre film; part adventurer, part film mogul, he travels the worlds’ oceans, finding interesting creatures, and then sells his exploits in Europe. Founder of ‘Team Zissou’, and a ‘Hitler youth’ style youth supporter club with their own special rings, he is a fading icon. No-one watches his films anymore, even he is seemingly disconnnected from the hijinks of his crew and family. He is in need of something to help him rejoin society – owning an island, and being captain of his own ship, he has lost any sense of his place in the world, becoming part-megalomaniac, part-depressive loser.

Played by Murray, Zissou is an intriguing character. With a certain charm, (possessed by all of Murray’s characters for as long as I can remember), and a trace of bad boy, Murray in this role is also bizarre. Closest in my recollection to his Lost in Translation character, he is certainly interesting to watch in this film.

The Life Aquatic with Steve ZissouThe support cast is of exceptional talent, although some of it is wasted. Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett and Willem Dafoe (playing stunningly against type) are reasonable in their performances, but I couldn’t quite get my head around Anjelica Huston as Mrs Zissou. Jeff Goldblum is sorely wasted, although I’d guess he just enjoyed being a part of this ensemble.

There is much to just sit back and accept in this film. The colours are at times unreal, but add to the feeling of unreality pervading the whole film. The choices by some of the characters are strange to say the least, and yet if you just go with it, you’ll surely enjoy this more than if you say “that’s not what someone would do”.

Unfortunately, in spite of the interesting ideas and techniques used – the ship set, with its side wall cut off so we can see all rooms at once is a very good example, as are the David Bowie in Portugese folk-singing interludes – I never really fell for it. I kept wanting more than this bizarre collection of subplots and sketches. Yes, there are moments of absurdity that made me smile, but I never felt invested in the outcome.

Rating: 2.5 stars
Review by Mark Lavercombe, 19th March 2005
Hoopla Factor: 2.0 stars

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