Recently, I came to the realisation that I’d only seen ONE of Wes Anderson’s films – 1996’s Bottle Rocket, if you’re interested – and so I decided it was high time I watched one of his other, more acclaimed titles.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is a film that I’ve had in my watchlist for over a decade, and I honestly have no idea why I’d not yet seen it. Its exceptional cast alone should be enough to make it a must-see, but there’s something about Anderson’s trademarked weirdness that had always put me off.
Within ten minutes of the film’s start, I was appropriately ashamed of myself.
Bill Murray plays the titular oceanographer as only Murray can; an utterly unique blend of deadpan humour, natural charisma and sporadic emotional outbursts bring the character to life in spectacular fashion. This over-the-top-ness resonates perfectly with Anderson’s colourful world filled to the brim as with man-eating sharks and casual criminality. In presentation, it’s warm and inviting, but there’s just a hint of darkness lurking beneath it all that really ties it all together. It’s also aged incredibly well, mostly thanks to its unique aesthetic and use of stop-motion as opposed to CGI.
The Life Aquatic‘s charm is that there is nothing else like it. It’s part love letter to the work of Jacques Cousteau, part comic examination of life at sea, all painted with ironic whimsy, and from the ground up it’s absolutely bonkers.
While that particular sort of otherness makes the end result inherently subjective, personally, I loved the film. It so perfectly captures its own insanity, and each member of its staggeringly talented cast bringing a different comic aspect to proceedings – Owen Wilson is naively childlike, Willem Dafoe is angrily jealous, Cate Blanchett is tragically unprepared for life… the list goes on – making for a joke so large and intangible that The Life Aquatic comes full circle into semi-seriousness again.
There wasn’t a moment of this film that I didn’t enjoy, and my only genuine criticism is that I know it clearly isn’t to everyone’s tastes.
Summary: An oddly soothing journey across (and under) the sea in a light-hearted tale of love, loss and revenge. It’s all brought to life in the most Wes Anderson way possible, and you’ll either love it or you’ll hate it – I loved it, though.