How on earth I am going to review this one is beyond me. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (Aquatic from now on) is so far off the map it defies description. This presents a problem, because for the next sixteen-hundred words or so that's what I am supposed to be doing. On that note, I'd better start with the plot, such as it is. Bill Murray plays Steve Zissou, internationally renowned film and oceanographer. His movies, all put together on his ship the Belafonte, are declining in popularity, the latest culminating in the death of his long time partner Esteban du Plantier (Seymour Cassel). The public assertion that this death was staged to increase ratings makes Steve Zissou all the more determined to find what killed Esteban - the infamous Jaguar Shark.
Zissou's ship is a floating film editing studio complete with sauna and kitchen that “probably has the most advanced technology on the ship.” His crew include airline co-pilot Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson) who is probably Zissou's son, but no one is really sure. Willem Dafoe plays emotionally haggard German Klaus Daimler who adores Zissou with blind passion, almost as if Zissou was his father (even though they are both the same age). From here it starts to get a bit weird. Everyone wears light blue tops, red bobbly hats and trainers that have long been out of production. There is someone playing David Bowie tracks in Portuguese, some Pirates on the high seas and several wonderful stop motion animation sequences. It all goes into the mixing pot and out comes...
A rubbish movie. BUT, you still won't want to stop watching, I guarantee it. There aren't any characters that are more than puddle deep, except Klaus who is funny as hell. Bill Murray, however, floats along is a kind of daze not really seeming to react much except the basic thrust of the story. There is a veneer of peculiarity that is present in every scene and therefore the way in which the story is presented. It is like the characters aren't what drives this movie, but rather the surreal world they live in. Carrots of eccentric happenstance are dangled in front of the audience, goading us into one disaster after another, never knowing how a character will react to Aquatic's twists and turns. It seems as if Wes Anderson is trying to find a purpose for the movie by taking it in as many different directions as he can in the hope of finding one that works before the end of the movie. By purpose or serendipity, what he actually achieves in doing so is a plain story that is defined by a directorial style, one that is as unique as they come. Aquatic hauls the watcher with it and by the end you are left with a sense of completion, that you are a fair bit happier having seen the movie than not, if equally confused as to why this should be so.
Our Review Ethos