Even though I consider Wes Anderson to be the best contemporary director, it seems as if I’d been avoiding The Life Aquatic for the longest time. The idea mostly revolving around how the bad-rap I’d read about the film would taint my love for the filmmaker, anyhow, soon embarking on a cruise I decided this would probably the most perfect time to review said film. And man, was I blown away.
I simply just don’t get it, why do so many people dislike this film. I get the dislike targeted at Darjeeling, but Life Aquatic is an emotionally touching experience with an overflow of originality, hilariousness, life-lessons, and painful truths. Though the film’s subject matter and lead character are equally morose, Life Aquatic is a beautiful tale of under-sea adventures that encapsulates the wonderful team dynamic we’ve come to expect from Baumbach, Anderson and Coppola.
The Life Aquatic of Steve Zissou is hard-hitting from its devastating intro. its a very risky film that focuses on bringing you down in order to gift you the perfect smile by the end. Its truly f-upped when you think about it, but then again it works so perfectly. Anderson usually works with damaged and troubled characters in all of his films, yet they’re always accompanied by an extensive background of quirky layers and as silly as it sounds to say that Bill Murray’s maritime explorer/documentarian might be Anderson’s best emotionally constructed character, its true. I love what Anderson did with Richie Tenenbaum emotional arc, but the way he directs Murray here suggests a much more calm, experienced, and mature side of Anderson we don’t really get to see in his work.
The work Bill Murray does here is astonishing, making me label it as one of his best performances probably ever. From his dynamic with his long-lost son, expertly played by Owen Wilson, Murray makes you feel for this man who has come to the realization that the last years of his life have been nothing but a train-wreck and he can do about it is either meltdown or pretend to be a former version of himself that withered away years ago. Where normally you’ve got side-characters stealing the spotlight in Wes Anderson films, here you’ve got one of his best ensemble casts and the choice Anderson takes to primarily focus on Zissou and his son works so well because it expands on the shaded character construction of Zissou as well as keeping the rest of the cast from feeling intrusive to the developing narrative. Willem Dafoe, Cate Blanchett, Seu Jorge, Jeff Goldblum and everyone involved is great to the extent they should be. Everyone plays their part without ever overshadowing any other member of the crew which drives the emotional tale of Zissou more whilst showcasing Zissou’s growing aloofness even with the people who have come to consider him to be family. A perfect scene of him fighting with Ned (Wilson) and climbing the ship, addressing each character, yet ignoring them all perfectly represents the way Zissou is with this team who is willing to do anything for him even though with each passing day he cares less for them. Its a fascinating dynamic that pays off once the relationship between Zissou and Ned comes to a completion.
As for the look of the film, its pure Anderson. It evokes that feeling you first get when submerging into the sea in your scuba-suit for the first time, captures that initial wonderment about the ocean and its similarities to outer space as well as paying tribute to the likes of George Méliès movie magic. The creature design is artistically wonderful, each animal Anderson creates illustrates its own personality with its color and the way it moves, its truly something else. From character-work to atmosphere, I’d never seen anything like this even though I’ve watched Anderson’s entire filmography, its a singular piece of beauty, a touching melodrama disguised as a deep-sea adventure. The Life Aquatic of Steve Zissou is as beautiful as the Jaguar Shark itself, its a misunderstood beast of majestic weight that everyone should seek out in order to be amazed in one way or another.