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La Vie Aquatique

Before I left for the frozen tundra, I had occasion to see The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. It's gotten mixed reviews, not the least reason for which, I think, is that it's a pretty subtle movie, far more subtle than Wes Anderson's rep. And so, alot of people are going to go see it, and just not get it. And that was the case in the audience with whom I saw it--no one really knew when they were supposed to laugh, and there's nothing quite so painful as watching a movie as dryly funny as LASZ with people expecting something different. I thought it was hilarious, but then, that kind of humor is right up my alley.

So here's the deal on the Life Aquatic. If, like me, you grew up watching shows like Wild Kingdom, then the flat, affect-less, documentary style of Zissou will seem familiar. The movie makes a big deal out of being eleven years old at several points, and that's really Zissou's target audience. He doesn't know a lot about science, he's not much of a leader, and he's been performing for so long that he doesn't have a lot of personality outside of the role that he adopts in his films. For adults, Zissou is a pain in the ass, but for eleven year olds, wow. Eleven year olds don't need the packaging that adults do.

So the movie begins as kind of a pomo critique of that documentary style, a style far more suited to the pre-Internet days and suited for kids old enough to be curious but young enough to suspend cynicism. And eventually, we come to see Zissou as someone who's trapped by the niche that he's created for himself, a niche that doesn't really allow him genuine relationships with his peers, his wife, his crew. When his best friend dies, he embarks on an Ahab-like quest, but even then, it's documented ceaselessly and pretty flat. The humor in the movie is incredibly deadpan, and once you realize this, it's equally ceaseless. From the exercises they do, to their uniforms, to the layout of the ship, to the dolphins, it's hilarious.

I won't spoil, bc I do recommend seeing it. I will say this, though. At one point, towards the end, Cate Blanchett's character says, seemingly out of nowhere, that "In twelve years, he'll be 11 1/2" in reference to her unborn child. This happens at a weird moment, but as I thought about it, I think the message there is that there needs to be space in the world for 11-year olds, and that Zissou's career, which caters to this audience, is thus worthwhile and worth continuing.

I'll also note that there's one tight focus on Bill Murray's face that's perfect. It's the scene that the entire movie leads up to, and I'm sorry to say that I think most of the audience around me missed it. You'll know it when you see it. That one shot, though, is the soul of the movie.

I'll note finally that Willem Dafoe is high-larious in this movie. High larious.

That's all.


Thanks for the insights. I enjoy your comments. I'm not a subtle guy and I don't see a lot of signals that people give off (funny, for the businesses I was/am in), and I was pretty tired when I saw the movie, so I missed a lot and am getting more out of the show in retrospect. Off the blog, remind and explain the focus on Murray's face and its significance. I missed that too.

Too Old

"Wild Kingdom" was a long time favorite in our house, too, but we never switched to Mutual of Omaha Insurance. What was the hosts name...?

Marlin Perkins!