The Life Aquatic (2004)

I love this movie, it’s one of my top 10 favorites. I have never seen a Cousteau film before this class, although this movie made me want to see them all.

Even never having seen Cousteau films, I knew almost immediately that the film was a parody. Both in the theater and when they were watching an old video of their arctic explorations in the rec room, they style of the video was very 70’s, the font, tone of the film, music, and just knowing documentary history, it could be no one else but Cousteau. It has definitely helped to see more elements of the film in relation to an actual Cousteau film. Anderson really put his imprint on this film as he does all his films. I love his work because it often represents characters who have little to no money issues, something that I think limits many stories both realistic and fictional. In Darjeeling Limited, none of the brothers issues in their adventure had anything to do with how much money they had or needed, were spending etc. In this film they had some funding issues but his characters are still so unconventionally related to money that the methods of getting it were humorous though not made a big issue in the film, when some films would make the issue of “obtaining money for a mission” a major subplot and one used for comic purposes. It may have been included to really paint a portrait of how Anderson imagined the life of Cousteau really was, doing whatever he had to do to fulfill his explorations, seeking out huge sums of money that always seem to be available somehow through funding, “borrowing”, selling off of equipment etc, while they effortlessly own things like Deep Search, the helicopter and their huge ship the Belafonte (a parody of Cousteau’s ship, a Calypso singer). Unfortunately for Zissou, his effortless and careless ownership of things ultimately ended the life of his supposed son.

I think Zissou’s journey throughout the film was another of Anderson’s fingerprints on the film. His carefree, life loving though self destructive, “no-consequences” character, really started to become human by the end when he dealt with the death of his friend and son and shut off the “I’m a documentary film maker and world explorer” mode , in essence, turning off the cameras long enough to mourn. The film was also a parody of Moby Dick in a way, his white whale ruined his life but taught him to switch off and be human. I think the end with him and his family walking to the ship was the perfect ending.

Cousteau’s films were also full of rule breaking and “adventure at any cost” that Anderson really portrayed. I think those elements in Cousteau’s documentaries were one of his marks as the auteur. He lived to discover and push the limits, just ad Zissou did. Life risks were a part of his and his crew’s daily life and to viewers, these men were heroic and rare 20th century explorers. This brings the element that so many people have already mentioned, the child like colorful world, paint colors, outfits and strange and amazing animals (of which I’ve been planning to get tattooed on my arm haha), all with curious colors, patterns or abilities. Just as a child watching Cousteau may have been awed by the creatures he filmed, seeing these new and amazing creatures is the closest thing that adults like us (who probably know most of the existing sea life, in general) can come to seeing these discoveries like a child again.

This movie is a masterpiece that I could write about for days, and now I’m set to acquire all of Cousteau’s films as well.

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