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Film / The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

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The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is a highly stylized 2004 film directed by Wes Anderson, written by Anderson and Noah Baumbach, and starring Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston, Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe. It is a Spiritual Sequel to The Royal Tenenbaums.

Steve Zissou (Murray) is a world-renowned oceanographer and documentarian. Things are not going well for him. For starters, his documentaries have been getting less acclaim. His wife (Huston), who was once married to his arch rival Alistair Hennessey (Goldblum), refuses to join him on his expeditions anymore. And worst of all, during the filming of his last documentary, his best friend Esteban was eaten by what Zissou describes as a "Jaguar shark", a creature that — given the fact that the only one who has seen it was an apparently momentarily deranged Zissou — few believe exists.


Zissou announces that his next documentary will detail his search for the jaguar shark in order to kill it. When he (predictably) can't get funding through the traditional channels, he receives the unexpected help of Ned Plimpton (Wilson Playing Against Type), a Kentucky airline pilot who believes Zissou to be his long lost father. Zissou sets out on the search for the Jaguar shark. His eclectic crew includes Ned; Bill (Bud Cort), a "bond company stooge" sent by Zissou's producer to keep an eye on him; pregnant reporter Jane Winslett-Richardson (Blanchett), who ends up coming between Ned and Zissou; Klaus (Dafoe), a devoted German sailor with severe emotional issues; and a bunch of unpaid college interns.

A beautiful, ridiculous, hilarious, and heartwrenching film. Either that, or an infinitely incomprehensible one. Oh, and Henry Selick made the fish.


The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou provides examples of these tropes:

  • Amicable Exes: Eleanor seems to have a better relationship with her ex-husband Hennessey than she does with her current husband Steve.
  • Art Shift: Cartoonish stop motion animation is used to depict many underwater scenes and most of the sea life that appears in the film.
  • Bad "Bad Acting": Steve's the only halfway decent actor among his crew.
  • Bang Bang BANG: Averted: despite one of the film's themes being how the unrealistic style of Steve's films comes from his surrealist reality, the guns do sound like they would in real life (as in, high-pitched pops rather than low thooms).
  • Broken Pedestal: All of Steve's associates have this towards him to some extent, but it's why Jane's writing a hatchet piece on him as she circuitously blames Zissou for her boss getting her pregnant.
  • Cock Fight: Played for Laughs in a scene between Steve and Ned when they're fighting over Jane.
    Ned: I'm gonna fight you, Steve.
    [Steve hits Ned in the face]
    Steve: You never say, "I'm gonna fight you, Steve." You just smile and act natural, and then you sucker-punch him.
    Ned: You fight your way, and I'll fight mine.
    Steve: Oh, listen, Ned. Don't you try to...
    [Ned hits Steve in the face]
    Steve: ... I think your Team Zissou ring might've caught me on the lip.
  • Compensating for Something: Zissou's strained machismo, promiscuity, and recurring homophobia are heavily implies to be the means with which he hopes to make up for his sterility.
  • Cover Drop: The exact scene depicted on the poster above is in the film (minus Ned, who is put where Pelé was in the actual scene).
  • Death by Irony: The helicopter that Steven poorly maintains winds up crashing while he and Ned are riding in it.
  • Everyone Is Bi: Steve implies as much when Hennessey tries to blame his failings as a husband on how he's half-gay.
  • Expy Coexistence: Steve is a blatant Mock Cousteau, but a comment from Steve establishes that Cousteau does exist in the universe of the film, as a rival to Steve.
  • Famous-Named Foreigner: Seu Jorge's character being named Pelé dos Santos sounds like a big joke to any brazilian, being a reference to the world's greatest soccer player.
  • Fictional Pinball Game: There's a "Zissou" pinball machine on the boat.
  • Five-Token Band: Team Zissou, as listed in the beginning of the film:
    • Esteban du Plantier
    • Klaus Daimler: "Calm, collected, German."
    • Vikram Ray: "Born on the Ganges."
    • Bobby Ogata
    • Renzo Pietro
    • Vladimir Wolodarsky
    • Anne-Marie Sakowitz
    • Pelé dos Santos
    • Eleanor Zissou
    • Seven marine science students from the University of North Alaska (one of whom is later identified as Nico).
  • Fix It in Post: Steve's reaction to some of his more blatant gaffes. Eventually, after falling down a flight of stairs, he announces that he wants to leave it in and "give 'em the reality".
  • Gene Hunting: Ned Plimpton believes that Steve is his father. It is later revealed that Steve is sterile, but in the meantime, both have become as close as father and son.
  • Gentleman Adventurer: The image Alistair and Steve try to foster through their films. Although Alistair's not much of an adventurer and Steve's hardly a gentleman.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Steve and Esteban before the latter's death.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Most members of Team Zissou.
  • I Just Want to Be Loved: Steve's primary reason for letting Ned join his crew is that his supposed son genuinely (and naively) admires him.
  • Jerkass with a Heart of Gold: Steve, definitely.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Steve is occasionally implied to be this.
    Steve: Oh shit, she's right. I guess we'll have to loop that line.
    • Steve at one point reveals that no one on his crew had any previous background in oceanography before joining, so he may not have had it as well.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: During a scene when Zissou insists that his films are documentaries and thus inherently truthful, the camera zooms out enough to show that the ship they're standing in is a constructed set.
  • Mock Cousteau: The titular main character.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Anne-Marie spends half of her scenes topless.
    • Depending on your interpretation, Zissou may have left this in his films for that purpose, so this could be stealthily lampshading the concept of fanservice.
  • National Stereotypes: Klaus' nephew Werner wears stereotypical German lederhosen in all his scenes.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Subverted with Bill the Bond Company Stooge. Steve expects him to follow them around on the expedition interfering and telling him what he can and can't do, but nothing of the sort happens other than briefly complaining when they raid Alistair's laboratory for equipment. He is seen doing his accounting work in one shot.
  • One Steve Limit: Esteban is the Spanish form of Stephen, meaning the two friends had the same name.
  • Pre Ass Kicking One Liner: "I said... get your ass THE HELL OFF OF MY BOAT!"
  • Precision F-Strike:
    Hennessey: Is this my espresso machine? Wh-what is-h-how did you get my espresso machine?
    Bond Company Stooge: Well... uh... we fuckin' stole it, man.
    • Also this scene between Steve and Jane:
    Jane: I'm going to have to start locking my effing door.
    Steve: It was locked, I kicked it in. Why don't you just curse like other people?
    Jane: Because I'm trying to get out of the habit before I have my fucking baby!
  • Ruthless Modern Pirates: The pirates Ned refers to as hijackers until Steve corrects him (and reminds him that he was supposed to be on watch).
  • Sapient Cetaceans: The concept of hyper-intelligent dolphins is averted.
    Zissou: Son of a bitch, I'm sick of these dolphins.
    • As the dolphins watch Ned get it on with Jane and turn to face each other and "laugh" when Steve walks by the monitors to check again, it's entirely possible they're just screwing with him. They later prove this by leading Eleanor to the rescue mission boat.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: After unsuccessfully trying to dissuade Steve from going on his hunt for the Jaguar Shark (which she believes, rightfully, will go wrong), Eleanor opts to leave the crew rather than be a part of the disaster that will ensue.
  • Sitcom Archnemesis: Early on, Steve refers to Hennessy as his "nemesis", most likely out of jealousy that the latter is richer, more handsome and more successful.
  • Short Cuts Make Long Delays: "You wanna pay for the extra gas?" Considering that the ship's fuel was set ablaze after it was boarded by pirates...
  • Shout-Out: Near the end, the team runs through a pond,and only Steve gets covered in leeches. The exact opposite of what happens in Ghostbusters (1984), with everyone but Venkman covered in marshmallow.
  • Spiritual Sequel: To The Royal Tenenbaums.
  • Stop Motion: Most of the fantastic species Steve encounters are animated in stop motion.
  • Technician vs. Performer: Hennessey's a much more legitimate scientist while Zissou compensates for his flimsy knowledge on the subject matter of his field by a genuine love of adventure.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: The Belafonte is taken over by pirates because Ned wasn't doing his job (due to having been put on the roster as "Kingsley Zissou"). Pele is playing his guitar on deck when they get boarded... and doesn't notice until the ladder hits the hull.
  • The Intern: The crew includes a bunch of unpaid college interns, whom the entire crew treats like crap and are forced to do menial jobs and loot one of Hennessey's research stations. They finally have enough and quit after the pirate attack, which Steve responds to by giving them all "Incomplete" in their evaluation (seeing as he doesn't want to pass them but doesn't want them to fail either.)
    Steve Zissou: Anne-Marie, do the interns get Glocks?
    Anne-Marie Sakowitz: No, they all share one.
  • The Talk Show with Host Name: Not a talk show, but uses the formula.

Alternative Title(s): The Life Aquatic


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