• James Rutherford

'The Life Aquatic': Wes Anderson's Fanciful Comedic Ode to Oceanographic Adventurism


Movie poster for the film Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic starring Bull Murray

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) is a highly fanciful comedy starting Bull Murray as Steve Zissou, a world-renowned oceanographer who helms the aging research vessel "The Belafonte". Zissou is at sea filming his latest documentary when his chief diver and close confederate Esteban du Plantier (Seymour Cassel) is killed by a bioluminescent jaguar shark, setting the stage for a comical tale of pursuit and retribution.


Leading his eclectic "Team Zissou", including estranged wife Eleanor (Anjelica Huston), German first mate Klaus Daimler (Willem Dafoe) and Brazilian safety expert Pelé dos Santos (Seu Jorge), Zissou is surprised by the arrival of Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson), a self-proclaimed long-time fan who believes himself to be Zissou's illegitimate son. When Ned offers up his sizable inheritance to assist in financing Zissou's latest film, documenting the search for the elusive jaguar shark, the full ensemble launches off on a whimsical journey of adversity and discovery.


Co-written and directed by celebrated auteur Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums, The Grand Hotel Budapest), The Life Aquatic is a dynamic and inventive escapade imbued with seriocomic narrative elements unique to Anderson's sensibilities. The full ensemble shines in their lively portrayal of a disparate assemblage gravitating around a singular dignitary, with Jorge's intermittent musical performances of David Bowie songs (in Portuguese no-less) adding an affecting air of whimsy. A box office disappointment upon initial release, the film has aged surprisingly well and now stands as one of Anderson's finer early formulations.

 

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