The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is an American comedy-drama film directed, written, and co-produced by Wes Anderson. It is Anderson’s fourth feature length film, released in the U.S. on December 25, 2004. It was written by Anderson and Noah Baumbach and was filmed in and around Naples, Ponza, and the Italian Riviera.
The film stars Bill Murray as Steve Zissou, an eccentric oceanographer who sets out to exact revenge on the “Jaguar shark” that ate his partner Esteban. Zissou is both a parody of and homage to Jacques-Yves Cousteau, to whom the film is dedicated.
Cate Blanchett, Willem Dafoe, Michael Gambon, Jeff Goldblum, Anjelica Huston and Owen Wilson also are featured in the film.
While oceanographer and documentarian Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) is working on his latest documentary at sea, his best friend Esteban du Plantier (Seymour Cassel) is eaten by a creature Zissou describes as a “Jaguar shark.” For his next project, Zissou is determined to document the shark’s destruction.
The crew aboard Zissou’s research vessel Belafonte includes Pelé dos Santos (Seu Jorge), a safety expert and Brazilian musician who sings David Bowie songs in Portuguese, and Klaus Daimler (Willem Dafoe), the German second-in-command who viewed Zissou and Esteban as father figures.
Minor crew members include Vikram Ray (Waris Ahluwalia), a Sikh cameraman, described in Zissou’s film documentary as a man “born on the Ganges”; Bobby Ogata (Niels Koizumi), a frogman who is usually seen eating; Vladimir Wolodarsky (Noah Taylor), original score composer; Renzo Pietro (Pawel Wdowczak), screen editor; and Anne-Marie Sakowitz (Robyn Cohen), script girl, who is often topless. “Team Zissou” also includes a pack of unpaid college interns from the University of North Alaska.
Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson) is a polite Southern gentleman whose mother has recently died. He believes that Zissou is his father. After they meet at a film premiere, Ned takes a break from his job as an airline pilot in Kentucky to join Zissou’s crew. As no one else will finance the latest documentary, Ned agrees to support the new film with his inheritance.
A reporter, Jane Winslett-Richardson (Cate Blanchett), comes to chronicle the voyage. She is also pregnant with her married boss’s child. A rivalry develops between Ned and Zissou, both infatuated with Jane. Klaus also is envious of the attention Zissou pays to Ned.
On their mission to find the Jaguar shark, the Belafonte crew has to deal with an attack by pirates. Sakowitz, along with all but one of the interns, jumps ship after the raid. The interns who leave receive “incomplete” grades for the course.
The Belafonte crew launches a sneak attack on the pirates to retrieve their money and rescue a “bond company stooge” (Bud Cort) who had been hired by Zissou’s producer Oseary Drakoulias (Michael Gambon). They also discover and rescue Zissou’s nemesis, Alistair Hennessey (Jeff Goldblum). Hennessey is successful, suave, and rich, and was once married to Zissou’s wife Eleanor (Anjelica Huston).
While searching for the shark, the ship’s helicopter crashes, injuring Zissou and fatally injuring Ned. A puzzled Eleanor reveals to Jane that Zissou is actually sterile and therefore Ned could not have been his son.
Zissou finally tracks down the shark but decides not to kill it, both because of its beauty and not having any dynamite. Viewing the shark finally validates an existence that Zissou himself had feared might have become meaningless. Eleanor is moved by this and falls in love with Zissou all over again. The finished documentary is a hit; and Zissou wins an award, regaining respect worldwide.
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