Wealth...💰fame... ⭐️ power... 🔌 The world 🌍had it all 💯 won 🏆by ☝️ one 🕺 man: The Pirate 🏴☠️ King🤴 Gol D. Roger 🥇At his ⚠️ death ⚰️🪦💀 the words 📝he spoke 🗣drove 🚘 countless men 👨 out to sea 🌊 ⚓️👀 "My 🤑treasure? 🪙 It's yours 👇 if you want it 😩🤨 Find 👁🔎 it! I 🙋 left 🛅 all 💯 the world 🌍🌏 has 👏 there!" ...And so men 👨 set 🪑 sights 👀 on 🔛 the Grand 📈❌ Line, 🙋💨 in 📥 pursuit of their 😴 dreams. 👤 The world 🌎 has 🈶 truly 😜💁 entered a Great 😁 Pirate 🏴☠️ Era!
The Life Aquatic has become one of Wes Anderson's most well-loved films, but at the time of its release, it was being badly maligned for a lot of key characteristic differences between, both, Anderson's previous work and in the kind of story it was trying to tell. Unlike The Royal Tenenbaums, for example, the tragedy internal to the story was draped in a kind of whimsy that let the viewer have ironic detachment (which, ironically, was the charge made of Anderson with this movie); you were confronted with, both, volume and substance of tension and pain from the characters trying to keep their cool while their lives walk a tightrope.
It’s a leap in style and substance of the composition of Anderson’s movies to this point, which began with Tenenbaums but in this one became a much more rich and nuanced use of its influences. A perfect blending on absolutely genius comedic writing in a film with a serious dark aura to many of its themes. One of Anderson’s more quotable movies for this reason. I think why it received the negativity it got initially had a lot to do with the reality of the core conflict’s strain on the human spirit being much closer to the surface and in a volume that made people uncomfortable even if it was potent in the right ways; an example of this effect being more nuanced might be how muted it was in Darjeeling by contrast. Aquatic has a good mix of Anderson’s later style with the realism highlighted by infusions of fantastical/imaginative elements of his first couple movies.
In the film, one of the core narratives is the thirst for exploration that Ned (Steve's possible son) reminds Steve, both, made him Ned's idol as a child and that Steve has not lost in his adulthood but has become muted because, precisely, cynicism of the documentary film world, personal losses, human tragedy, and ultimately, in the death of his best friend Esteban, the doubt it endgendered in him about his mastery in navigating the depths of our world.
At the beginning of the film, Esteban is eaten by something Steve dubs "The Jaguar Shark", which Steve vows to "fight, but allow to live", only to observe it and wonder if it remembers him when he finally gets his chance. This comes after the loss of Ned, the project we was embarked upon collapsing, and the revelation that Steve did, indeed, remember answering Ned's question in his letter to him as a child: "Do you ever wish you could breathe underwater?"
"Always." Steve's response went.
The story is fundamentally one about how humans are so advanced cognitively, but the conflict of man in the natural world is not one man can be assumed to win by default (unless, of course, he uses that advancement to destroy the Earth). Steve, once, understood that humans play a role in an ecosystem, and that the sea is one they are destined to explore, but not necessarily dominate; if he could breathe underwater, he might develop this in time, or ideally, some kind of coexistence with the sealife, one gets the impression he might prefer. This, I believe, is the key to understanding Steve Zissou, and what this movie is really about, in the way that Tenenbaums was about collectively healing a family dynamic.
"Unpredictability was only the attention-grabber. Those studying chaotic dynamics discovered that the disorderly behavior of simple systems acted as a creative process. It generated complexity: richly organized patterns, sometimes stable and sometimes unstable, sometimes finite and sometimes infinite, but always with the fascination of living things." wrote James Gleick in Chaos. Steve's life is off-the-rails in a lot of recognizably human ways before the start of the film, but the death of Esteban after decades of diving together and in study of the ocean, is what initiates the disarray we find his, and consequently, the entire Zissou organization in at the start of the film. As opposed to a complex system that generates randomization from inputs of many variables, chaos theory suggests that a chaotic system can be informed by a single "ideal" that directs the trend of this chaotic order and makes it coherently understood, even if through a great many orders of complexity. This is a concept called a "strange attractor"– an ideal behavior that dictates some kind of order onto a chaotic system. In this case, the influence of a man who is a reluctant father figure to many in his organization, those who consider him irrational and follow him anyway in his employ, and those who enable his irrationality. This dynamic is not an unfamiliar one; following a mad man into the depths of hell, either as true believers, simply out of loyalty, or for the spectacle.
The thing that seems to reign all this in is Ned's disappointment with Steve as an idol, the recognition that he does, still, value about himself what made him an idol to Ned in the first place, and that, ultimately, he wants to know if the Jaguar Shark remembers him, when presented with an opportunity to take revenge; this (revenge) is something not found in nature, as much as one can argue that killing, amongst animals in and of itself, is. On a conceptual level, the ability to explore the depths of the ocean is a kind of mastery, but as Steven ultimately realizes, his impulse for revenge is not one that applies to the natural world, he and Esteban were still alien to the environment and still subject to the order of things in the animal world (that there are predators and prey and the cognition occuring is human, which doesn't make the natural behavior of animals less majestic when human emotional state changes to appreciate it).
The film includes the cast of Team Zissou which includes a physicist who is also the documentarian's resident score composer, the late Esteban being the elder statesmen of Zissou's internal political order while also chief diver, many characters taking the role of cultural or spiritual influencer while managing a technical, practical role on the team. I think this speaks to the inherence of belief amongst the team to trend towards the ideal of producing a Zissou documentary, even if "the Zissou" on Team Zissou (as Esteban puts it in a retrospective scene depicting an interview) is the least stable element, a figurehead by some estimations.
However, this too, is human, and particularly in the criticism of creating media. "The dark side of blogging is, of course, people can be (and are) just savage and uncivilized, deeply cruel and fully unaccountable." is something attributed to essayist Augusten Burroughs, and it applies here– Steve's response to possibly unfair criticism of his documentaries as "somewhat fake" are harsh and unaccountable, but so are the critiques. He spends much of the film grappling with critical response to his work, even from those who purport to idolize him (his son, and a journalist who is joining the crew for this voyage with whom, both, Ned and Steve, are enamored by). He eventually, like he does these other conflicts, puts them into proper persepctive and balance; the journalist will have her piece published, he comes to terms with what initially made him uncomfortable with it, and becomes more human to other humans in the process.
Ultimately, one could take away from this that creation is an extension of the tendency to seek the company of other people, rather than being a relief of being the peer of them, and, frankly, speaking as a species, the evolving role of said species in the rest of the natural world.