The Secret Meaning of The Life Aquatic

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the most surprising email I’ve received today.

Warning: If you haven’t seen The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, beware!

Spoilers ahead!

* * * * * * * *

It disappoints me to find no reviews, in either the mainstream or Christian press, that point out the excellent allegory supporting the story of Steve Zissou. The movie is about what happens to a man of faith in a society dominated by nonbelievers.

Steve is a modern, comic version of St. Stephen, the early Christian martyr put to death for asserting his beliefs to the Jewish religious court.

Surely, it was no accident that the film was released on December 25, St. Stephen’s Day. References abound. St. Stephen was stoned to death; Steve was just stoned…although we see him getting stoned in the critical sense early on as movie patrons react badly to his film. St. Stephen is the patron saint of horses; Steve gives a seahorse to a little boy.

Steve’s minisub resembles a sleigh, another symbol of St. Stephen.

The major symbol of Steve’s faith in God is the jaguar shark. This kind of shark doesn’t exist; one can only believe it exists. Steve’s able to go after it because he believes Ned, source of funding, is his son. He refuses to kill it so as to create a crowd-pleasing film. Surely, he’s headed for more stoning. His moment of finding the shark and NOT killing it is, structurally, the climax of the film.

I’d like to see the film again. I’m sure there are other allegorical elements. Who are the figures in the painted backdrop in the theatre scene? Inquiring minds want to know.

So, young film critic… go slap yourself on the forehead.

Interesting thoughts. But this letter would have been much more enjoyable if these insights could have been shared without the suggestion that I go punish myself for not already knowing this information. If the writer had been more respectful, I’d have given him some credit. I grew up in a conservative Baptist community, and I might suggest that the writer go slap himself in the forehead for not realizing that I did not receive any kind of education regarding saints and their stories. But I was taught to speak the truth in love, so I’ll refrain from the condescension and snark.

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” called Through a Screen Darkly, and a four-volume series of fantasy novels called The Auralia Thread, which includes Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast. Jeffrey is a contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, and he writes about art, faith, and culture for Image, Filmwell, and his own website, LookingCloser.org. His work has also appeared in Paste, Relevant, Books and Culture, and Christianity Today (where he was a film columnist and critic for almost a decade). He lives in Shoreline, Washington. Visit him on Facebook at facebook.com/jeffreyoverstreethq.

  • Anonymous

    wow! that certainly was something interesting…while I don’t really think that that is correct I do think there is some merit to it. i always thought that the jaguar shark represented steve and that the whole journey was about him finding himself again, getting back to his roots and realizing what is important in life…

  • Anonymous

    I think this is a very profound comment. I love the analogies. One correction, the little boy (Claus’ nephew) gave Zisso the seahorse as a gift. And it is a rare “Crayon seahorse.”

  • Anonymous

    I’d want to know a lot more about the content and context of the film before I could fully assess this interpretation, but mostly, it reminds me of the infamous parody analysis of Frost’s “Stopping by Woods” which asserts, through some convoluted arguments, that the narrator is actually Santa Claus.

  • Martin

    St. Stephen’s Day is Dec. 26, not Dec. 25.

    Wondering if the guy who sent you this is the same guy who thought the bum behind the dumpster in Mulholland Drive was a Christ figure?


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