Achievement unlocked: Jaguar shark tattoo

Two weeks ago, I spent about seven and a half hours at Traditional Tattoo in San Luis Obispo to finish the work Jillian Wefald started back in April. It was my third session, and while we didn’t spend the entire time actually tattooing, it felt like a very long day. It was worth it, though, because I left the shop with the final piece of the puzzle: my jaguar shark.

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that wandering around with a jaguar shark tattoo–or any Wes Anderson-themed tattoo–is hipster as bacon. I’m not too worried about it though, because The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is brilliant and I believe it will always speak to me as strongly as it did when I first fell in love with it ten years ago. It’s impossible for me to explain why I love this movie, and why the jaguar shark had such a profound impact on me. I’m terrified of sharks and avoid the ocean (and, if I’m being completely honest, tend to panic in any deep water including lakes and the deep end of the pool. I attribute the latter fact to watching too many James Bond films as a young child).

Furthermore, Life Aquatic fails the Bechdel test–an incredibly basic assessment that simply asks whether a movie has two named female characters who have a conversation about a subject other than a man. I believe in this test whole-heartedly because I believe that Hollywood and the film industry need to stop treating an entire gender like we’re some kind of minority. Stop casting women as bimbos in bikinis or silent, supportive wives with no personality or significant whatsoever. Stop making us props.

And yet my favorite movie fails this test. The only conversation between two named female characters concerns Steve Zissou, and more specifically, concerns Steve Zissou’s semen. It’s tough to make an argument there’s any progressive stance on gender there.

So I’m in love with a sexist movie with a jaguar shark. It’s tough to defend. But still, I find something so incredibly poignant in Steve Zissou’s struggle to redefine this new phase in his life, to come to terms with a world where he can’t be the young hero. And when Zissou finally comes face to face with the shark and Sigur Ros’ “Staralfur” is playing, it’s so gut-wrenchingly beautiful and sad and perfect that I have to cry. There’s just no other option. And I don’t know why. I mean, I could probably come up with some kind of bs about loss and facing your demons and courage and acceptance, but I don’t particularly want to rationalize my feelings for this movie. Steve Zissou sets out to hunt the jaguar shark that ate his partner and he comes out of the experience a changed man. I wouldn’t necessarily say that he’s a better man. I certainly wouldn’t argue that he was a good man to begin with, but he’s doing the best he can. And he makes one good decision, at least, though I won’t reveal it at the risk of spoiling an incredible movie.

I want to face my fears. I want to get better at forgiving, both myself and others. And I never want reality or adulthood to deprive me of my sense of adventure. And though I wouldn’t argue that I identify with Steve Zissou, I can honestly state that he represents aspects of my personality that I need to learn to control, but also a number of traits I don’t possess, that might maybe be good for me. A certain degree of recklessness and willingness to embrace all of life.

Maybe getting a tattoo was reckless. Maybe getting a tattoo of an animal that terrifies me is irrational. And maybe a shark really will attack me in the deep end of the pool at my gym. These are all risks I’m willing to take. Except the last one because I still can’t make myself go near the deep end of that pool.





  1. […] Progress made: Done, thanks to Jillian Weffald. About two months after writing this I had my first appointment. Ultimately, three appointments and about 10 hours of work later, I can happily state that I’m a tattooed lady. […]

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