More noise than signal

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

If there’s any one film that established Anderson as Lord Whimsy Whimsington the Third, it would be The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Bill Murry returns as the titular famous, but faded oceanographer, who swears Ahab-ian enmity upon the Jaguar Shark that killed his best friend and sets a course for vengeance.

On his trip he’ll take his recently discovered, probable son, Owen Wilson’s Ned Plimpton, and Cate Blanchett’s Jane Winslett-Richardson, a journalist that he hopes will capture this journey in a positive light and bring him back the respect he feels he has unfairly lost of late. Also joining the trip are his usual crew headed by Willem Dafoe, and some interns that really ought to have been issued red shirts, going up against nature, pirates and Zissou’s bitter rival, oceanographer Jeff Goldblum.

It would be foolish to deny the whimsy of this – just look at the underwater life scenes that have more in common with The Fantastic Mr. Fox than a David Attenborough join, or the incredible in both sense of the word layout of Zissou’s vessel. It’s often as much of a storybook as it is a film. However you can’t write it off as entirely a journey of whimsy either – perhaps more than any other of his films, Anderson undercuts it with action scenes – action scenes! – that are entirely at odds with the rest of the content.

It’s a hell of an ensemble cast performance, with an excellent soundtrack that stands out even amongst Anderson’s typically excellent soundtracks, and I still find this one of the most entertaining of Anderson’s works and until relatively recently my favourite of his. I don’t think it’s doing a great deal to further our knowledge of humanity, and given the number of characters involved it’s not going all that deep on any of them. But they’re all memorable, and all entertaining, as is the film overall. And sometimes that’s enough.