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January 14, 2005

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

2004.USA.Anderson

2.5 / 4.0

I haven’t seen Bottle Rocket, was unimpressed by Rushmore, and the best thing I have to say about The Royal Tenenbaums is that it was quirky. In other words, I’m not a Wes Anderson fan. Despite my best attempts, I can’t seem to find anything in his films to sink my teeth into. They have an uncanny ability to draw me into their world, and I don’t dislike watching them, but they always come off as empty. Maybe I have a beef with Anderson the screenwriter and enjoy Anderson the director. Maybe I just don’t understand the films. Either way, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is more of the same.

Filled with great actors, the film is a lackadaisical fairytale about an aging oceanographer/filmmaker on a quest to kill the shark that killed his partner. Many people focus on the triangular relationship between Zissou, his son, and the jealous Klaus as the heart of the film, but I’m not convinced. The relationships are too shallow. If there is an overlying theme to film, my best guess is that it has something to do with artistic erectile dysfunction, or writer’s block. Why else would Zissou be a filmmaker and an oceanographer? If so, then Zissou’s son, Ned, is not a real child, but an idea (or inspiration) that Zissou gave birth to and somehow lost. And the course of the film sees Zissou fighting to regain that idea and cure his dysfunction. He moves from a state of artistic bankruptcy to creative renewal. It’s important to keep in mind that Zissou’s ultimate creation, which comes to him in a moment of intense emotion, the death of his friend, is the Jaguar Shark. Therefore, the film’s ending amounts to an artistic success for Zissou, something that eluded him in the opening scenes. (And the film’s pirates are meant to represent film piracy?)

Taken as part autobiography, The Life Aquatic may be a story of its own making not dissimilar from the Charlie Kaufman penned Adaptation. But whereas that film used style to complement and comment on its content, Anderson substitutes one for the other. For example, the action scenes in The Life Aquatic, while well enhanced by music and cinematography, are filler. They’re not necessary. The same can be said for many of the film’s lines of dialogue, which are funny but superfluous. Spec screenwriters are told, “kill your babies.” Anderson, as writer-director, has more freedom, but the advice is still sound. It could even be applied to a few of the characters.

Filled with some nice special effects, colourful sets and good acting, The Life Aquatic isn’t a bad film. But I still can’t figure out exactly what it’s about. Maybe it is about relationships between fathers and sons, or about the artist who’s lost his spark, or simply about growing old. I don’t know. And I suspect Wes Anderson doesn’t either.

20 Comments:

Blogger Scott said...

...was unimpressed by Rushmore...Why?

8:09 pm  
Blogger Michael K. said...

I gotta agree with Scott. You're talking about one of the greater films of the last 10 years there, pal. But hey, one man's trash...

11:08 pm  
Blogger Steve said...

I remember liking "Rushmore" when I saw it, but at this late date I'm starting to wonder if I wasn't just trying to be down with the cool kids. 'Cause I can't remember what I liked about it.

10:15 am  
Blogger Quack Corleone said...

Thanks for the comments.

I watched 'Rushmore' again, and liked it more than I did the first time. It's my favourite Anderson. But I still don't think it's great. It has some excellent moments, and the music, as usual with Anderson, adds to the film, but the parts don't come together for me. It's like Max Fischer, great at the eccentricities but still failing. I'm not sure if it's the mix of comedy and tragedy that I don't quite like (although I did like it in films like 'As Good As It Gets'. Or the heavy stylization. Or what.

I certainly prefer 'Rushmore' to 'Garden State', which I've heard it compared to too often. However, as satire, I like Payne's 'Election' more than Anderson's film. Still, I've seen 'Rushmore' twice now, and wouldn't mind seeing it again, so maybe that's the truer mark of a great film.

Note: I enjoyed all the references to Jacques Cousteau and "the life aquatic" in 'Rushmore'. Interesting how a newer film can affect an older one.

I'd be keen to hear your case(s) for 'Rushmore'!

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