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February 7th, 2005


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04:17 am - I'M ON TO YOU STEVE ZISSOU
Oh holy crap. I had just gone to bed and I was lying in between pillows with a cat at my foot and I was just lightly nodding off and thinking about The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou and if I had said all I really wanted to say about the film, and I knew there was one point story-wise that had bugged me, and I thought and I thought and I thought and then I jumped up and went "OH SNAP" and the little cat ran off thinking she had done something wrong like snore or something and now I'm here pounding like a madman on the keyboard and I'm trying not to lapse into profanity even though I'm all "OH MY GOD" and stuff here.

Don't read beyond the cut if you haven't seen the film yet. I'ma discuss heavy plot points and spoilers.


First off, I forgot to mention the fact that the chopper crash scene is an amazing piece of work. More specifically, the agonizingly long, long, silent POV shot as the chopper heads into the scene. We're on the helicopter with Steve and Ned and it just takes SO GODDAMNED LONG to fall, and we're stuck on the shot just like Steve and Ned are stuck on the chopper, and there's no sound, everything has gone blank in our minds except for the fact that the chopper is about to hit the water and it's gonna hit soon and it's gonna hit now and it's gonna hit oh my god, this is what a real crash must feel like. There was no overly contrived drama, no musical sting, just a camera mounted on a chopper frame that was dropped from a great... height.

Wow.

But that's not what I wanted to talk about. Wanted to talk about Esteban's death.

It's the catalyst for the entire goddamn movie. It is the event that sets everything off. It's our first piece of exposition. Zissou, on a dive with his closest friend Esteban, watches in horror as his friend is eaten by the mysterious leopard shark. (Or, as Zissou repeats several times during the course of the film, "That's what I think it was.")

Wes Anderson has many characters innocuously bring the validity of this story up, and each time it's handled very gently. "Why didn't you show him being eaten?" an audience member asks at the screening. IIRC, Zissou says he ran out of film. Several times he mentions he thinks it was a leopard shark what munched his chum.

Then I got to thinking -- ok, Steve's the only one who witnesses his friend's death. They're the only ones in the water at the time. The rest of the crew isn't there. Steve comes up, babbles the entire story of how Esteban just bought it, and then Klaus points out his "crazy eyes" due to nitrogen poisoning or whatever poisoning he has from coming up too quickly. He went loony for a moment. And there's no film of the actual event, even though Steve Zissou is a consummate inclusionist.

He sets off on an obsessive revenge mission to kill the shark that ate his friend, telling everybody within earshot of his plans for revenge, but when he eventually finds the shark, he just sits and watches it. Can't bring himself to attack it. (Just as well; the shark's ginormous. He would've needed a bigger sub.) But perhaps he can't kill it out of revenge, because it didn't kill his friend.

Because what if...

What if Steve, perhaps under the influence of the crazy eyes, perhaps in a bid to revive his flagging film series, stabs Esteban underwater, killing him and leaving his body for the shark? Then he sets up his new film with a revenge quest angle and hopes it'll be the turnaround point. We already know his entire life is lived as a documentary; he's shown constantly setting up shots and demanding something be re-shot when he feels necessary to do so. (When he saves Ned from drowning during the test dive, he's almost more worried about how much light the cameraman's getting than how Ned's doing.) He feels comfortable manipulating his life to fit his films and orchestrating Esteban's death this just takes that and inflates it to its obvious extreme.

Holy Fudd. Maybe it was supposed to happen that way.

I admit the first inkling of this hit me while I was watching the film on Saturday; I kept wondering why we kept getting hints about the story's validity, hints that would lead nowhere by the end. I got irked, thinking there'd be some conclusion to it, some kind of closure. I spent the entire first half of the film waiting for someone to call Steve on it, to ask him to tell how it really happened, but then we had a whole bunch of other complications, including the chopper crash, and by the time we got to the beautiful shark encounter scene, I grew happy and complacent and forgot about it. But perhaps this is the kind of conclusion I needed to draw myself. Perhaps Wes Anderson meant for us to figure it out in our own time, instead of having the movie do it for us.

If so, that's extremely clever and I am very amazed. Of course, I'll never know if that's the authoritative truth, so if that's not how it was supposed to have happened, well, it gave me something more to bang on my keyboard about, and I can go back to sleep. The melatonin's kicking in already anyway.

(8 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


From:(Anonymous)
Date:February 7th, 2005 11:59 am (UTC)
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There was a lot of stuff in this movie where I thought, "Hmm, if I gave this a lot more thought, I could probably get a lot out of it."

But nothing in the movie made me want to give it more thought. It just didn't grab me, entertain me, enthrall me enough on a basic level to make me even consider exerting the energy required to like it more.

Oh well, Royal Tennenbaums is still awesome.

From:(Anonymous)
Date:February 7th, 2005 11:59 am (UTC)
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Dammit! Always forget to sign -- Noah
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From:bombasticus
Date:February 7th, 2005 12:43 pm (UTC)

A darker reading

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How much of the movie is "really happening" and how much takes place under the influence of crazy eye? The red-on-red iris image comes back again.
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From:ctartchick
Date:February 7th, 2005 01:59 pm (UTC)
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I haven't seen this yet, so I'm only going by the posts I've seen about it, but with all the "meaning on meaning" kind of remarks being made about it, could someone stack this up next to Brazil for me? Because it's starting to sound exactly that confusing and crazy, and if it's anything like Brazil, Paul will LOVE it.
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From:derspatchel
Date:February 8th, 2005 04:55 am (UTC)
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Brazil's a lot better. A lot a lot a lot. But I'll recommend almost any Wes Anderson film, so chances are there's something he'll get out of The Life Aquatic, even if it takes a viewing or two.
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From:ctartchick
Date:February 8th, 2005 04:47 pm (UTC)
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He probably will. I know he liked Rushmore quite a bit. I'm not sure why - the main character just grated on me, but perhaps he was supposed to.
From:archangelsk
Date:February 7th, 2005 04:23 pm (UTC)
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There was also that scene after the first press conference where a reporter outside asks, "Who are you going to kill next?" just before taking Steve's picture. That, and the "does this look fake?" scene with Blanchett, later, when he pulls the gun on her. He ask her something like, was it fake when my best friend was eaten right before my eyes?

Now you've got me thinking—was it?
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From:jimmystagger
Date:February 7th, 2005 10:43 pm (UTC)
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Very interesting Mister Rob, very interesting.

Small geek fact: Seu Jorge's character name has a little joke hidden in it (Pele dos Santos). Pele, obviously the soccer player, spent his 9/10ths of his professional career with his local (and favorite) team in Brazil- Santos FC. So it's like the guy's name is Pedro de Red Sox. Just thought it was cute.

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