GUEST POST: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

For me, the genius behind Wes Anderson’s films isn’t the ornate sets and detailed costumes, or the cinematography and beauty of the worlds he creates, or even the underlying themes highlighting the importance and need for family and community and personal connection.  While those are all great things that give his films meaning, relevance, and feeling, what sets them apart, what makes them hilarious, is the silence.  The pauses.  The absence of reaction and drama in dramatic moments. It is what I love the most and what I expect when I see a Wes Anderson film.  Especially one with Bill Murray in a leading role (Bill being the master of deadpan and pausing for effect).

“I’m right on the edge… I don’t know what comes next.” 

-Steve Zissou

And while a pause or outright silence seems simple, it is super rare in TV and movies… someone stopping to think before they say something.  A lack of repartee.  A calm and calculated response. Someone in the crowd asks Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) what the purpose of killing a shark that ate his friend would be, and he pauses, looks at the speaker, and says, “revenge”, without a hint of emotion. Super funny. Oddly honest and heart felt.  The conversations in Anderson’s films, but especially in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, often feel, at least to me, the way most conversations are… often awkward and hilariously painful (at least in my head), with the struggle of how to appropriately respond to the people and events happening around  you being constant.

And that is the struggle that Steve Zissou has throughout the movie…responding and reacting to the insanity that is happening around him… an aging oceanographer/documentary filmmaker who is suddenly introduced to Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson), a young pipe smoking co-pilot for Kentucky Air, and allegedly, Steve’s previously unknown son.  Oh, and Steve’s best friend was just eaten by a giant spotted shark right in front of him, his marriage to Eleanor (Anjelica Huston), who is also the “brains behind Team Zissou”, is falling apart, and he’s broke.  So, that’s a lot of stuff to respond to when you aren’t someone who is good at responding to things (which is a direct quote from a graduate of the Derek Zoolander Center For Children Who Can’t Read Good And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too).  When he first meets Ned and hears for the first time that he might have a son, he simply says, “I’ll be right back”, and walks away to Bowie’s, “Life on Mars” to smoke a joint alone.

But ultimately, the film is about the need to have other people close to you, and the difficulty of overcoming personal flaws to achieve that end.  And it’s about David Bowie songs in Portuguese.  And poorly maintained helicopters.  And silence.


Okay… so I’m not the greatest film analyst, and there are a bunch of thoughts that I wanted to mention but that didn’t really fit into my narrative above, so here is just a list of some other things that I love about The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou:

-The music.  First, there is Seu Jorge’s character, safety expert Pele dos Santos , who is continuously playing the aforementioned live acoustic Bowie covers. Then there is the score composed by longtime Anderson collaborator and Devo member Mark Mothersbaugh. And of course there is the climatic finally of the film, which is set to Sigur Ros’ beautiful and intensely building,Staralfur (a track oddly absent from the official soundtrack, despite its significant and memorable role).

– Jeff Goldbum.  He plays Alistair Hennessey, nemesis and ex-husband of Zissou’s wife Eleanor.  Self-described as “half gay”.  His character is one of the best in the movie.

– Costumes.  From the custom vintage Addidas that said ‘Zissou’ above the stripes, to the matching wetsuits, pajamas, speedos, beanies, and Glock handguns, Team Zissou rocks only the finest attire.

– The Belafonte.  A former long-range sub hunter for the Navy, the Belafonte gave Anderson an opportunity to create his smallest and most detailed world yet….crafting an intricate and fascinating mini-universe from a shitty old blue boat.  I want a poster of the cut-through map of the Belafonte when Steve gives the ‘tour’ of the boat.

– The last line of the movie.  “This is an adventure.”  -Steve Zissou


John-Michael Gillivan is a professional insurancer and amateur Batman from the Midwest who now lives in North Carolina. In his free time, he writes about music, his favorite fruits, and bears over at He owns socks with tiny anchors on them. 


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