Becoming Cousteau

October 22nd, 2021




It’s important to be curious, especially when it comes to education, and wanting to know more about what makes this wild world go round. Yet I wonder what Jacques Cousteau would have thought about the internet and how it became a cesspool of conspiracy theories and armchair scientists. The deep sea diver and underwater explorer was incredibly ahead of the time without the internet, where back in the 1960’s and 1970’s he became aware that our oceans were burning up, and took the baton to push for great protection of the world’s aquatic environment. In Becoming Cousteau, however, there’s so much more to learn about the man, how the sea became his passion, where he began as a novice diver, and how his passion became the very fiber of his existence. Becoming Cousteau is a dive into the man that became synonymous with what it means to explore the various mysteries of the deep, and what it was like to be THE Jacques Cousteau.

When a documentary profiles a historical person it becomes a balance between the honest, accurate account of someone’s life, versus the pristine and pretty side that one would hope to be shown. Director Liz Garbus does a near perfect job, showing both the positive and the negative of Jacques Cousteau. Starting in his life from when he began as a pilot for the French army, eventually would enlist in a group of divers fixing ships, and recovering people lost in WWII. This was just the start of his love for diving, something that developed into more as he figured out a way to invent the aqualung, which allowed divers to go farther than before, breath longer, and discover more of the unknown world under the sea. With each progression the name of Jacques Cousteau would grow, creating his own diving crew on his vessel the Calypso, and becoming mainstream with his underwater discovery documentary series. Cousteau wasn’t just a diver for hobby, he was the name that became synonymous with underwater study.

The celebrity of Cousteau is nearly something of an anomaly by today’s standards. Greta Thunberg is yet to capture the hearts of the world the way Cousteau did. Tens of thousands of people would join the Cousteau society and his show would become one of the most watched on television. He’s also an anomaly of a person who realized the errors of his ways, as he was a major part of the underwater oil drilling that took place in Saudi Arabia, and would spend the rest of his days atoning for his contribution to destruction to the environment. The negative side of Cousteau was his troubled family relationships, something he didn’t reconcile with his children till much later in life, and his constant escape to the water. It’s not that Cousteau was a womanizer or someone mistreating his peers, but he was just escaping all responsibility. The bitter pill to swallow is when his son Philippe Pierre would die in a fatal plane crash, which is a reminder for Jaques of what he did and didn’t do as a father.

As far as documentary structure goes, Becoming Cousteau uses a powerful narrative engine, mixing in voice overs done by actor Vincent Cassel, images of photos, documented footage, appearances on television, and the journals of Cousteau. It’s because of this approach by Liz Garbus as to why Becoming Cousteau works so well. There’s not a slow and redundant pace to it, interviewing survivors or those who knew the man, but letting the man speak for himself. Becoming Cousteau feels current, for a documenting of a man of the past, the world needs to hear the words of Jacques Cousteau more than ever.

For the time when the fight against global climate change is at its most dire, as the reefs have been whittled down to burnt rock, and the sea levels rise, seeing the love that Jacques Cousteau had for deep sea discovery is palpable. It needs to be harnessed and infect the youth of today, hopefully creating a world where we all care about protecting aquatic life. Becoming Cousteau is a documentary that succeeds at honoring the man, where he did so much for the world, so the least we can do is continue the message he set in motion today. We should all aspire to Become Cousteau.



Written by: Leo Brady

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