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Wednesday, January 05, 2005

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou: A damaged film

I saw the odd film, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou last night and found it to be the least funny of the three films in that sericomic artsy style of Wes Anderson's films. But at the same time, it was one of the few films that made me think awhile after its viewing. I wasn't sure that I was supposed to laugh in any event. It was half price Tuesday and there was only 12 people in the theatre for the 7 pm viewing. It did not bode well. After watching Anderson's film I was trying to sum up the film's experience with Julie but found the words did not come easily. It seems like a type of post modern comedy in which there is a sense of damage or incompleteness. For those who liked Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is a must see. For those of you who did not see or like any of the previous two films, save your money.

We join Team Zissou in medias res during an Italian screening of their latest aquatic documentary in which a Bill Murray's right-hand man, Esteban du Plantier, is seemingly eaten by a 'jaguar shark'. The adventure thus begins anew with a new filmic quest to hunt down the killer mythical shark with some cameras and some dynamite. Team Zissou is an assemblage of odd characters who are armed with the requisite red toque, speedo and Glock pistol. There is a sense of 'damage' or 'incompleteness' to the film on many levels. It is intentional. Team Zissou is damaged or incomplete with the death of Esteban du Plantier, played by Seymour Cassel. Owen Wilson's character is damaged with the uncertainty of knowing whether Steve Zissou is his father. Cate Blanchet is damaged in her pregnancy without a father. Jeff Goldblum's character is damaged in the fact that is is only "partially gay" (what ever that means). Steve Zissou is estranged from his wife played by Angelica Huston. The two critter-cam'd dolphins are apparently useless. Even the pirate's dog, Cody, is damaged, having only three legs and been abandoned. The adventure is also damaged in that mid-way through its mission, team Zissou's ship, The Belafonte, is attacked by pirates. There is a certain two dimensionalness to the film. The Belafonte is primarily shown as a cut-away prop.

The film is quirky like that. The intellectual gags are semi-humorous (as intended?): Cate Blanchet's character is reading aloud the six volume novel, Remberance of Things Past by Marcel Proust and is currently reading from Swann's Way. During the night, Owen Wilson's character overhears this and goes to Blanchet's room and asks permission to join her reading. She explains that she is reading this to her baby in her womb. She further offers to catch him up on the novel but he refuses and believes he can get the gist of the story eventually. Yeah, right.

The film ends on another tragic note I will not give away in this post and the sense of damage and incompleteness continues to plague Team Zissou. Is The Life Aquatic the end of this trilogy of films? It certainly is a quirky tribute to its inspiration, Jacques Cousteau. As the credits roll we find out the film is dedicated to Jacques Cousteau. Cousteau's ship was The Calypso. From IMDB web site trivia: "Zissou's ship is called the Belafonte. Harry Belafonte became famous singing Calypso songs."


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