The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

Rated R. Our ratings: V-4 ; L-5 ; S/N-3

Whoever digs a pit will fall into it; and whoever breaks through a wall will be bitten by a snake.
Ecclesiastes 10:8

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Director and co-writer Wes Anderson’s current film seems to lack the energy of his previous two quirky films Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums. Bill Murray plays Steve Zissou, a take off on oceanographer Jacque Cousteau, but he seems so lethargic that it is difficult imaging him having the energy to don a wet suit. I know, this is supposed to be droll humor, and much of the latter is well-taken—for example. Cousteau’s ship was named The Calypso, so Anderson names Zissou’s ship The Belafonte. (Get it? Harry Belafonte first gained his fame back in Cousteau’s time by recording Calypso songs that became hits.)

When we first see him, Zissou is despondent because his latest documentary film flops at its premier, even though its narrative includes the killing by a great shark of his best friend. When asked what he will do next, Zissou states that he will mount a new expedition to hunt and run down the shark that ate his friend, capturing its execution on film, of course. But there seems to be little of the spirit of Captain Ahab in Zissou as he gathers finances and crew for his new venture. Finding the resources proves more difficult now, largely because each of his last several films have been drawing smaller and smaller audiences. Also he must convince his estranged wife Eleanor Zissou (Anjelica Huston) to come along. Some of his needs are supplied by foul means—he raids a laboratory owned by his wealthy archrival Alistair Hennessey (Jeff Goldblum), stripping it of all usable equipment.

But the venture is finally made possible when a young man shows up who may or may not be a son conceived out of wedlock Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson), a pilot for a Air Kentucky, agrees to use his money to complete the financing, and even succumbs to Zissou’s offer to accompany him so that they can bond together. However the father-son relationship is soon threatened when each takes a romantic interest in the skeptical journalist who joins the voyage, Jane Winslett-Richardson (Cate Blanchett, the main reason for paying to see this film). Also aboard are the loyal crew member Klaus Daimler (Willem Dafoe) and Zissou’s agent Oseary Drakoulias (Michael Gambon).

The action, besides a beautiful scene in which our crew first sees the killer shark, is whacky, even involving an attack by Filipino pirates and a chase to their island hide-out. There are a number of David Bowie songs sung by a folksinger who appears and disappears throughout the film, but why they are sung in Portugese is a mystery to me. The complications arising from Zissou’s revenge-driven quest might or might not bear out the Biblical warning, but the last scene focusing on the oceanographer and a young boy for me make the film worth seeing (in addition to Cate).