The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) — Bill Murray takes a dive

“I’m so pissed I want to spit!”

Nancy’s rating: I love it when everything I love is compressed into a lovely cinematic experience for the world to love as well.

Nancy’s review: I’m not into a whole lot, to be quite frank. This many surprise you. Often I will say “I totally love kung fu!” or “I’m sooooo into Sex And The City!”. But I’ve found a habit in my music taste that parallels my actual life. A lot of the time, I will dig the cliché of something, or be in the mood for it. There are very few bands that I enjoy as well as respect as people, but there are a lot of bands that I get in the mood for. Same with movies and things in life. There’s not a lot that I really love but there is a lot that I will get into for the sake of the cliché/my mood of the day.

The point of that little delve into my psyche is The Life Aquatic comprises a few things that I really genuinely love, that I’m not just ‘in the mood for’ sometimes, but I really think are essential components to my existence. For example, acoustic guitar in a language I don’t understand (in this case, Porteguese). And also, Bill Murray. Fish and Wes Anderson.

If you ask me on any given day if I really want to go to an aquarium, watch Rushmore or see a Seu Jorge concert, I guarantee I will say yes. If you ask me if I’m down for a Nightmare On Elm Street marathon or should we go see the Beastie Boys? …my answer will be dependent on my mood. So, in short, this movie is going to be biased.

But short of the fact that it plays on my selling points like cigarettes do to chain smokers, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou is a very sweet movie, slow-paced but oddly humorous with red hats. It is basically the story of a man hitting his mid-life crisis, in terms of relationships ending, new ones beginning and what he counted on his whole life not being as valid as he thought it was. He’s facing conviction. What is unique about this film is instead of buying an Porsche, he fights a shark.

I’ve noticed I have a habit of being incredibly vague in my plot recaps. But I really would rather tell you about how this movie makes me feel then tell you what happens. I feel I’ll be more of a preview that way, flashing images and shouting emotions while giving a brief sense of the plot until you’re so incredibly seduced by my deep voice that you dedicate the next week of your life to seeing the movie.

Or something like that. I don’t really know, I’m just trying to get you to see this movie.

Bill Murray is in the later parts of his transition from kooky comedy to serious fricken drama. He’s still hilarious but he’s got real sincerity starting to shine through. I love that in his earlier films you can start to see the melancholy and as the films progress there gets to be more drama but you can still always see the humor. I feel like The Life Aquatic just crossed the halfway mark, with sincerity and serious issues beginning to surface, but still maintaining a real unique sense of humor.

I don’t mean to Bill Murray freak-out here, although that tends to happen whenever his name is in the credits. The rest of the cast is just as spectacular, with major props for Willem DaFoe for delivering some of the most hilarious lines. Also, brief spots by my friends Bud Cort and Jeff Goldblum – both of which I’ve had mini-joke-obsessions with – and Angelica Huston being as beautiful and mysterious as ever. And despite the fact that I hate their accents, both Cate Blanchett and Owen Wilson are quite convincing.

One look at the back of my DVD case makes me giggle (I had to figure out how to spell ‘Blanchett’. It’s one of those movies where the humor is so deeply embedded in the universe it creates, that everything that happens is just hilarious, just because it’s happening. Bill sneezes? I’m rolling in the aisle. Owen hands Cate a cupcake? My sides! They are splitting!

Anyway, it’s a Wes Anderson movie, and if you’ve seen the others, you know exactly what you are in for. He’s got his own little world where he lets his characters hang out in and having their deep emotional and existential dilemmas. If you are along for the ride, with the crazy visuals (Check out the fish!) and cool soundtrack (Iggy Pop!), then hop on the boat. It’s glass-bottom, with a weird sense of humor, and it’s a little drunk.

Kyle’s rating: and when I find myself falling for some girl / I hop right on the boat of mine / drive around the world

Kyle’s review: As I wait, for some ungodly reason, to finally see The Darjeeling Limited (once again half a year’s worth of attempts to see Darjeeling in theater lead to only pain and near-amputation), I sip a delicious blended chai beverage containing who knows what and contemplate The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

Must like The Royal Tenenbaums, it took repeated viewings for me to immerse myself fully into this particular universe and learn how to properly “dig it.” (Rushmore, almost surely because of its academically-grounded story, connected immediately with the younger endless-student me). In fact, it took being recruited as a chaperone meant to prevent an inkling of romance between a friend (who didn’t want to be alone with a particular girl) and the girl (who was also a friend and wanted to be more with the other guy) for me to really “get it,” especially since there I was stuck on the couch between the willing and the unwilling and the only escape was Life Aquatic on my friend’s thankfully massive HD screen.

Wes Anderson movies, as has been observed here and millions of other pretentious websites, inhabit their own worlds. The meticulously-chosen soundtracks are usually the key to unlocking the emotional entry point into the heart of each film, but I strongly recommend feeling slightly useless and/or metaphorically “trapped” in your life to really empathize with Steve Zissou. And if you happen to be watching the movie with a friend who is a renowned pothead, that helps quite a bit, too.

For me, ultimately beyond all the Anderson trappings and quirks this is a story about regaining your purpose. Actually, that may have been the stupidest sentence I have ever written in my tenure as a Mutant Reviewer. If only because the point of the film is so obvious that now I feel like an idiot for even seeming to pretend like I and I alone solved the mystery of the narrative. Whoa!

Let me try a different tact: what I really dig about this movie is that, even throughout the (*spoiler!*) triumphant ending for Steve and his surviving crew, there are very few honest moments in the film. It’s sort of like Anderson turned his own brand of storytelling on its head, knowing that in his prior films his characters expressed their inner drama and demons through quirks and hilariously elliptical dialogue. Here, everyone uses quirks and quirky dialogue as shields and ways to avoid saying what should be said: rather than express themselves, everyone is sticking their heads further in the sand as the running time progresses.

All of which brings us to the point where it seems the only “true” moment in the film, which is absolutely not coincidentally my very favorite moment, is when Steve asks Cate Blanchett’s character if she will help them in some minor way. In response, chewing her omnipresent chewing gum, she simply shrugs.

Completely minor gesture, genius character moment. How many ships have been launched and lives lost on the basis of an indiscriminate shrug? Do even the most ardent of history majors know? DOUBT IT. Perhaps Wes Anderson knows. Perhaps not. But through his films, we can all continue to guess and wonder. What more could anyone ask for?

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