Wes Anderson's 'The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou'

Seeing Murray in a diving suit dancing to a buzzy electronica tune playing in his helmet is certainly memorable -- and hilarious.

But Anderson's humor is a peculiar sort. It's quiet and jam-packed with cross-references to pop culture, art and film. Although Anderson and Baumbach wrote the role for him, Murray said he doesn't see himself uniquely equipped to carry off this offbeat comedy. In fact, the "Saturday Night Live" alum doesn't see Anderson's humor as particularly offbeat.

"Your wacky may be my goofy," he said. "Funny is funny."

So was this highbrow humor more difficult than, say, "Caddyshack" or "Stripes"?

"I'm one of those people who says there aren't a lot of people who could pull off 'Meatballs,'" said Murray.

'Not a Movie for Dumb People'

Oscar winner Anjelica Huston plays Zissou's wife, Eleanor. Complicating their relationship is Eleanor's past marriage to Zissou's rival oceanographer, Alistair Hennessey (Jeff Goldblum).

Huston said she had such an excellent time working with Anderson and Murray on "The Royal Tannenbaums" that she "almost demanded to be in this movie."

An admirer of Anderson's work, she said, "I like gentle humor. I like plays on words."

And there's quite a bit of that in "The Life Aquatic." Visual jokes and puns are packed into each frame and the dialogue is rife with witty callbacks to earlier Anderson films.

Watching "The Life Aquatic," you feel as though part of your brain is intent on sorting through a rebus. Zissou's ship, The Belafonte, for example, is a reference to Cousteau's legendary vessel Calypso, by way of singer Harry Belafonte, and his groundbreaking 1956 album "Calypso."

"If you don't listen closely, a lot can go by," Huston said. "It's not a movie for dumb people."

Cousteau, Fellini and Wonder

Cousteau and aquatic life were integral to "Rushmore," and in this film Anderson literally immerses his characters in a weirdly wonderful watery world. Henry Selick, the Academy Award-nominated animator of "The Nightmare Before Christmas" and "James and the Giant Peach," creates fantastical marine oddities with stop-motion animation: from peppermint-striped candy crabs to illuminated electric jellyfish to the Moby-of-them-all -- the glowing jaguar shark.

Selick said Anderson "creates a Fellini-like world of fantasy but maintains an emotional reality." In this film, Selick said, Anderson wanted a low-tech, handmade look. "Even if an idea is cartoonish, he wants it to look real, almost hyper-real," Selick said.

So, what's behind Anderson's fascination with Cousteau? "I grew up watching Cousteau's films, and Jane Goodall's and 'Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom,' and I loved them," he said. "Cousteau was just a unique, incredible person. He did everything. He was a scientist. He invented things. He made films. He was in the French resistance. He had style and mission, but no sense of environmentalism." Anderson said. In a sense, the environmentalist movement Cousteau helped spark, was incidental to his ocean-faring missions.

Despite its physical differences, Anderson doesn't feel "The Life Aquatic" is a major departure from his earlier films. "The characters in this movie could walk into another movie and be comfortable."

Ultimately, the film resolves with a sense of emotional redemption and release for Zissou and his crew. Lives are saved and lost, and the crew and the jaguar shark confront each other with wide-eyed awe.

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