The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

Inciting Event: At the disappointing premiere of his new ocean documentary, Steve meets Ned Plimpton—who thinks he might be Steve’s son. Note that the opening scene sets up the main situation (the death by jaguar shark of Steve’s best friend Esteban and Steve’s determination to seek revenge), but not until the Inciting Event do we encounter the main conflict (Steve’s relationship with Ned).

First Plot Point: With his new expedition to kill the jaguar shark on the brink of financial ruin, Steve learns Ned just inherited over a quarter million dollars. Ned volunteers the money for the expedition, and Steve takes him up on it without a second thought. Not only does this set the new precedent for their relationship, it is also the Key Event that allows them to leave the Normal World of Steve’s island home and embark into the adventure world of the cruise aboard his ship the Bellafonte.

First Pinch Point: Steve breaks into his rival’s sea lab, where he uses the stolen technology to locate the jaguar shark. He charts a course through unprotected waters. The Coast Guard gives chase—and, eventually, the rival Ossy does as well. The scene with Ossy deciding to give chase is the true pinch here, so it comes little late. But note how the turning point causes the pinch.

Midpoint: Pirates capture the Bellafonte, steal Ned’s money, and kidnap the bond agent. Steve chews through his ropes and attacks the pirates like a crazy person, scaring them off, and killing one of them.

This is such an awesome example of a Midpoint that comes out of nowhere while still being perfectly setup. It allows the second half of the story to move in an entirely new direction. It also signals the shift in Steve’s attitude, as he finally begins to move out of his reactive, neurotic narcissism in the first half and instead begins to take action in facing up to his flaws, fixing his relationships, and conquering the pirates.

Second Pinch Point: Ned finally confronts Steve about their relationship and about the way Steve treats people. They exchange punches. Again, the pinch here isn’t actually the turning point. The turning point comes when Steve’s estranged wife Eleanor arrives, interrupting his fight with Ned, and brings the money and information they need to rescue the bond agent from the pirates.

Third Plot Point: After rescuing the bond agent from what they believe is a deserted island, they discover the pirates and are attacked. This isn’t a massive low moment in itself; instead, we find a much quieter moment of personal revelation for Steve when he falls headfirst down the stairs and decides they should leave the embarrassing footage in the documentary and “show the audience the truth” about the broken-down old man whom no one likes anymore.

Climax: Steve and Ned go out in the helicopter to look for the jaguar shark. The helicopter crashes in the ocean, and Ned is killed.

Climactic Moment: Steve and his entire crew get into the submarine and go out together to see the beautiful jaguar shark. In that moment, Steve not only accomplishes his overall story goal, he also faces down the truths he’s learned about himself over the course of the adventure.

Resolution: The documentary of Steve’s adventure hunting down the jaguar shark premieres.

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