' Cinema Romantico: The Beauty Way

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Beauty Way

In reviewing Wes Anderson's "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" (2003), Roger Ebert described Bill Murray's title character by referencing an epitaph he was immensely fond of, one of a teenaged girl entombed at London's Southwark Cathedral. He wrote: "Steve Zissou is very tired. I suggest for his epitaph: Life for him was but a dreary play; he came, saw, dislik'd, and passed away."

Zissou is a Jacques Costeau-esque oceanographer, and because he is Jacques Costeau-esque, we assume he is a man ensconced in an oceanic embrace, a lover of the sea's wonders and mysteries, its infinite depths and inestimable species. Yet even if the character is modeled on Jacques Costeau, he specifically possesses none of the same spirit, overcome instead by a "vague, wistful tristesse" in the words of A.O. Scott.

It's fair even to ask if Steve Zissou likes the sea. So much of the evidence suggests otherwise, whether it's wanting to kill the mystical Jaguar Shark in the name of revenge or Team Zissou's supposedly intelligent dolphins for whom he only professes extreme irritation. He often comes across more enchanted with his glock and his Campari on the rocks than marine biology. Slowly but surely, the joy this aquatic once held for his field has withered. And yet.....

At the premiere of his new film which is, shall we say, less than well received ("I just don't think they got it," he's told which is the surest sign you've got a cinematic neutron bomb on your hands) and which features his best friend and forever-and-then-some colleague, Esteban, being eaten alive he runs into his nemesis who is in a relationship with his ex-wife and then some old coot asks him to autograph pretty much every poster of every old (more successful) movie he's made and so his glorious past is literally flashing before his eyes and, I mean, my God, can it get any worse? And the sheer exhuastion with which Murray plays all this honestly makes you wonder if he's going to make to the end of the night without hopping into a submersible and eternally submerging himself. But then......

The nephew of Klaus, his right-hand man, bestows Zissou a gift. It is a Crayon Ponyfish. And in this instant, Zissou's nature barely but oh so perceptibly changes. "An interesting specimen," he says with a suddenly surprisingly sincere air. In that instant you can see who the old (young) Zissou must have been and wonder, sadly, where he went. And when some nameless yokel standing outside the theater, alongside the picturesque red carpet, not entirely convinced that Zissou's mourning for his friend Esteban is authentic, callously wonders "Who're you gonna kill in part two?", fisticuffs ensues, causing the tiny bag bearing the exotic Crayon Ponyfish springs a leak. Could this day get any worse? Thinking fast, Steve seizes a champagne glass to use as a makeshift fish tank.

All due respect to Mr. Ebert but that magnificent shot makes me think of a different line involving another teenaged girl. "I don't think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains."


2 comments:

Derek Armstrong said...

Whatever prompted you to write this today, I'm glad you did. One of my most cherished Anderson films.

Nick Prigge said...

Thanks, man. Glad it worked for you. I think Wes has really settled into a groove with his last few films and yet..... Life Aquatic is still my favorite.