The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
by Corinne Rizzo
In Bottle Rocket, Anthony falls in love with Ines while swimming in the hotel pool, a pool that was the center of the hotel universe with multiple scenes shot in and around it. In Rushmore, Max plans to build Ms. Cross an aquarium the size of a baseball field and brings additions to the classroom aquariums in the meantime. The Royal Tenenbaums finds Margot in the bathtub for hours every day, while Ethylene practices archeology in the inner city. Similarly, Richie and Margot runaway to live in the public archives for a few weeks to get away from their family. The ocean, water and exploration are major themes in Wes Anderson’s films and in Anderson’s fourth film, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, the filmmaker displays an outward celebration of aquatic life and adventurism, themes Anderson has previously suppressed in earlier films.
Set on the Belefonte (Zissou’s research ship) , and subsequent island locales, Steve Zissou, played by Bill Murray (formerly Raleigh St. Claire), is an aging explorer bent on discovering the shark that killed his best friend Esteban, and rediscovering his edge as a documentary film star.
The film begins at a festival in honor of Team Zissou’s latest documentary in which it is revealed that Esteban has been consumed by an unrecognizable shark he names the Jaguar Shark. It is apparent that the documentary has fallen flat with the audience and in a fit of defeat, Steve swears to make his next documentary the one of exposing this new fish, hoping to regain his strength as an explorer.
During the after party for the documentary, Steve is approached by Ned Plimpton (played by Owen Wilson). Plimpton is at the wrap part y to meet his father, who he believes is Steve Zissou. Steve is unexpectedly warm toward Ned, soon offering him his own last name and suggesting he change his first one also, to Kingsly, what Steve says he would have named him, had he had a say.
The adventure ensues. A motley crew of characters, including Willem Dafoe, all wearing matching light blue uniforms with bright red skull caps, set off to find the shark. In the meantime, the Belefonte is pirated by strangers, Team Zissou breaks into the Hennessey laboratories (Captain Hennessey played by Jeff Goldblum), boats are blown up and three legged dogs are left behind. All lead by Zissou and all conquered as well.
Anderson’s depiction of the sea is magical in this film. It is not a dark scary place down in the depths like biology books would have one believe. It is a place of illumination and Anderson shows that in a very unique way. All sea and island life are clay-mation interjected into the film with neon color. Electric jellyfish, neon trout, Technicolor pony-fish, and even the jaguar shark himself are bright, vibrant creatures that illuminate the sea with a magic that displays an affection for the ocean and the wonder involved in exploration.
In the film, all colors are paired with their contrast, where there are blues there are yellows, where there are reds there are greens. Anderson does an awesome job at creating this world of discovery and adventure that harkens to classic marine biology documentaries one might have seen in middle school—colors heightened to show the viewer an image not witnessed before. Obviously inspired by the deep-sea creatures that illuminate their own way through the ocean and other phosphorescent life forms that glow.
The Life Aquatic is a film packed with sarcastic humor and an almost obligational form of love for exploration. The relationships that evolve around a Steve, designated as delusional by his peers at the onset of the film, would be impossible without the situations he pulls everyone into. Bill Murray is a most excellent addition to Anderson’s films and his role as Steve Zissou can easily be touted as one of his best. The film mixes his lust for excitement with the reality of his apathy.
Featured also in The Life Aquatic is yet another musical journey set by Mark Mothersbaugh, complimented by Pele played by Seu Jorge, and David Bowie. The multiple renditions of Life on Mars, reminds the viewer that the ocean is a frontier, just like space and there is still so much to know. Wes Anderson in no way hits his peak with The Life Aquatic, but sure does give himself a run for his own money in his next film.
Top Five Reasons to Watch The Life Aquatic:
1) The colors. Did you know that Mark Mothersbaugh attended Kent State?
2) The music.
3) The adventure.
4) Willem Dafoe as Klaus!
5) The idea that life’s drama, highs and lows, can occur anywhere, even in the middle of nowhere.