The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

R   |    |  Action, Adventure, Comedy

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) Poster

With a plan to exact revenge on a mythical shark that killed his partner, Oceanographer Steve Zissou rallies a crew that includes his estranged wife, a journalist, and a man who may or may not be his son.

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  • Cate Blanchett at an event for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
  • Robyn Cohen and Noah Taylor in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
  • Bud Cort and Jade Marx-Berti at an event for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
  • Bill Murray and Owen Wilson in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
  • Bill Murray and Willem Dafoe in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
  • Jeff Goldblum and Bill Murray in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

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2 June 2008 | tedg
Swimming Beneath and Yet Breathing
I'm not generally a fan of Wes Anderson. He relies too heavily on the charm of detachment. Burton has this problem too, hidden under the humorous tone. The appeal is a generational thing and I guess I'm too old to simply find that enough.

But here, he does something different than what I have seen elsewhere from him. I think it is because the Owen influence is small here. The form is a movie about making a life which is a movie. Both the movie and the movie within have fantastic elements, but we do have a clear shift to brighter colors and crisper landscapes when within the inner world.

Its all based on synthetic notions of drama: love, purpose, worth. When you sneak up on things this way, you have to play a delicate game, one I think Wes usually flubs. You have to engage by setting a distance that is far enough from the norm that we as viewers can lean into it, and near enough to what we think of as real flesh that we want to.

Bill Murray doesn't understand this balance, because he's all about distance. Never mind, he's just an actor. So you select actors that try for the closeness. Dafoe and Blanchett get this. What they choose to do is simple: they form a real person and layer some cartoonish mannerisms on top. We see through the play and value the real underneath, where we cannot with Murray and Wilson.

Because the whole thing can blend together, we get a wonderful balance of this tension: engagement and studied apartness. I credit Anderson with maintaining this container. It works. And it works because he was smart. You can see that he understands this dynamic well enough to know that we will be impatient with his tricks for very long. So the movie changes tone as it moves along. It changes slowly with less emphasis on the personal abstraction and more on abstracting the physical: the ship, the rooms, beds, sub. It allows Cate to present her womb, which is quite a miracle.

If you read the trivia at IMDb, you find that many top actresses wanted this part. So it is pretty amazing that Cate's condition as a pregnant woman who knows how to turn herself inside out was able to have that condition become so central to the world we see.

This isn't quirky. This isn't comedy. This is extremely sensitive positioning of the audience to allow for deeper penetration. Its a triangulation of "Incident at Loch Ness" and "Cowards Bend the Knee ."

I felt blessed watching it.

Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.

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