Tonight Valarie and I went to see Wes Anderson’s film The Life Aquatic, Valarie for the first time and me for the second time around. I had loved it when I saw it before, but I felt a little shaky about it because The Life Aquatic had received very mixed reviews, and I was aware of its faults. But it turns out after seeing it again that, yeah, I really do love that movie.
I call this the Return of the Jedi effect: a movie that I love in a personal way in spite of its imperfections, but choose to focus on its strengths while enduring its weaknesses. I know you never have to apologize for liking a movie, but this isn’t what I mean. Rather, it’s a matter of justifying that love to myself. I write movie reviews, so if I come to have a heartfelt connection with something that in reality I know has problems, I at least have to know why.
Return of the Jedi has some moments I often want to fast-forward through, namely most of what happens on Endor with the Ewoks. But Luke Skywalker’s rescue of Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt’s palace, and the confidence with which he does so, his Jedi powers coalesced astonishingly since the end of The Empire Strikes Back, remain astonishing to me, as does his confrontation with Darth Vader and the Emperor. It’s also just so great to see the rebellion finally defeat the Empire, even if the euphoria of that moment at the end of Jedi is earned largely by the virtue of the two movies in the trilogy that come before it.
Similarly, watching The Life Aquatic tonight, I had to acknowledge the aspects of Anderson’s film that just didn’t come off quite right. (Beware of spoilers here.) The movie is too long, the Owen Wilson character’s death was unnecessary, and the action sequences feel out of place. But the sincerity of Bill Murray’s performance is profoundly compelling to me—just how much soulfulness and longing he communicates through his eyes. And of course I just adore all the lovingly detailed and idiosyncratic touches a Wes Anderson movie always brings, from the Team Zissou sneakers and stationery to a crewmember named Pele continuously covering David Bowie songs in Portuguese. As I remember Murray noting in an interview late last year after the movie came out, Anderson is kind of making an American Fellini movie, and there’s definitely a touch of La Dolce Vita to The Life Aquatic—even their names (particularly when translated) sound similar.
Truthfully there are very few movies, books, or whatever kind of artwork you choose, that could be called truly great. It’s a term we throw around a lot but that not everything deserves. And as it happens, I think greatness is not something we would always want, even if we could have it. Sure, I’d like for there to be a lot less terrible stuff out there (are you listing, Sandra Bullock?), but ultimately with movies like Jedi and Aquatic—just as with some people— I somehow love them almost all the more because they are flawed, because it makes the way they’ve earned my fondness all the more remarkable.