March 17, 2006
The Life Ironic
I don't know what makes The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou such a funny movie, but it is. Most comedies, particularly American ones, are easy to categorize--satirical, bawdy, kitschy, witty--but this one's hard to place. It has such an earnestness about its portrayal of the characters that most people, I think, miss the humor. But where does the humor come from? That's what's hard to put into words.
I think it's rooted in the absolute sincerity of the characters even as they portray our own shortcomings and self-doubt to ourselves. As a character in front of an unblinking documentary camera his whole life, Steve Zissou never doubts himself or his purpose, but as an older man, the existential crises of truth and self bubble constantly to the surface, sort of like a character on stage playing his part at the same time the actor announces his stage fright to the audience.
Steve's quest for authenticity conflicts with his self-awareness--modern man's fundamental obstacle to happiness. We find ourselves over-examining our actions, looking for meaning that only clouds the purity of the experience, and only in the end, after too much education and philosophizing, do we give up and become comfortable with ourselves, no matter how absurd the experience.
There's the humor. That no matter how hard you try, you can never escape yourself. And no matter how seriously you take yourself, you look silly in somebody's eyes. But that's okay. Just laugh. We're all in the same, errr, boat.