After literally dozens of times through Michael Showalter’s hot new single “Erotica” it began to dawn on me that the song’s theme, details and setting could pretty much pass for a Wes Anderson movie. Then reality smacked me boldly in the face and shouted “it is a Wes Anderson movie, retard!” And as it turns out, Michael Showalter’s “Erotica” is pretty much the musical equivalent to Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Not merely through ridiculous settings, character names, remarkably unnecessary uses of terminology, grave plot twists, sexual overtones or quirky one liners however, but they both try to say something about life when all is said and done. And that’s what really matters.
First, the horribly fictional settings that both the movie and the song find themselves taking place in. “Erotica” bounces from Bermuda (deep sea fishing), to the Rare Book Archive at the Firestone Library to a simple hospital room where the song concludes. Not to be outdone however, The Life Aquatic spends most of its time on a submarine (The Belafonte), with countless tangents all about the Italian Riviera and beyond. In terms of mental visualization, the description given by “Erotica” is mute compared to the visuals given in the movie, but all the same, the comparisons are there.
Much along the lines of the comically absurd settings are the criminally laughable character names. By far the winner is The Life Aquatic even when only using some of the main characters’ first names (Eleanor, Klaus, Alistair, Oseary, Pelé, Vikram and Kingsley). The Life Aquaticdemonstrates not simply a reach for the unusual in doing so, but a thrust towards the presumptuous. Far from the same level of branding comes from “Erotica,” which simply explains one of the sailors as Edgar MacCabe, hardly a presumptuous name when you think about it. William Iverson and Margery the librarian do little in terms of adding to my struggle for similarities, but again, far from me to say that I find no comparisons.
The most blazing reflection between “Erotica” and The Life Aquatic comes with the overly detailed terminology and/or descriptions given to various (sometimes mundane) plot elements. For “Erotica” these details come from two primary sources, food and sex. Though not as sexually explicit as the descriptions of various sandwiches later in the song, Showalter reflects, “There’s this young librarian I know named Margery, she’s very shy, you’d hardly even know she was there under all those bangs. But there’s something about her. Something about the way she unbuttons her blouse that one extra button, just enough so you’d notice – if you were paying attention. There’s something about the way she licks her lips while she reads her books. Something about the way she crosses her legs under the desk and lets her skirt ride up past her thigh revealing the fact that she’s not wearing any underwear. So you can just barely see a hint, just a suggestion, just the faintest little whisper of her pretty little tea pot dripping boiling hot water all over the floor.”
While The Life Aquatic has ongoing sexual references and suggestions, it fails to do so in a way that is nearly as elongated and throbbing as Showalter’s cheeky itemizations. Rather, “sugar crabs mating before the solstice.” Not that hot when you think about it.
“Erotica” doesn’t detail the sea and in all its glory as Anderson’s picture (hydrogen psychosis, crayon pony fish), but at least it tries, “blue lobster, freshwater Harrison squid, barrels of Peterson shrimp, forkfish and kelp.” Again, not entirely the same, but all the same it is hard to contrast the two and not draw any comparisons.
Another one of the oh-so-glaring similarities between the two is the grave plot twist, which in both situations comes quite early in the plot sequence. Showalter describes, “little did we know that by noon the next day, half of us would be mangled, bloodied beyond recognition, a school of sharks would turn my boat and its entire crew into a floating bucket of chum” roughly a quarter of the way into the song. Likewise, the Jaguar shark’s attack on Steve Zissou’s best friend, Esteban, ultimately shines as the first key point to the plot of The Life Aquatic. Both grave, both descriptive, both in the sea…comparisons galore.
The Life Aquatic holds much better one liners, both in terms of quantity and quality. That being said, Showalter’s quirks are far subtler and can quickly go by unnoticed, “And I tell Edgar about how Margery and I did a wheelbarrow in front of the mayor.” Here are just a few from Bill Murray’s Steve Zissou,
“How could you lay that slick faggot?”
“This bulldyke’s got something against us.”
“I’m going to fight it, but I’ll let it live.”
“Son of a bitch, I’m sick of these dolphins.”
“I’ve never seen a bond company stooge stick his neck out like that.”
Not as sly as Showalter’s, but a tad sharper all around.
After watching and listening, both the movie and the song, the similarities glow between the two with each bringing about its own strange conclusion. While Zissou’s journey to find and destroy the monster that killed his best friend concludes in him finding grace in the beauty of the beast, Showalter shamelessly resorts to blessing us with words of wisdom, “The moral of the story is this, don’t try to be someone you’re not, because life is too short. Just be who you are, because we only get one turn on this big blue marble.”
And unfortunately, this is where all of the comparisons end. While a joke, the song recalling a tale of sea misadventure that ultimately serves as a mask for hilarious pokes at romanticism and dreams concludes with a statement bearing significant weight (no matter how funny it may be). And the moral of The Life Aquatic…well, when it gets right down to it…might be plain and simple…
No matter how visually impressive their high spots may be, no matter how delicious their soundtracks might sound…stop wasting your time with Wes Anderson movies. (Further proof, The Darjeeling Limited)
[This post was first published by Culture Bully.]