Don’t worry if you are not sure what exactly is the meaning of ATAVISTIC. Just read the post and then watch the film. Submarine is a small British film that none of us had heard about. And then came the first trailer (scroll down) of the film. Whatever they say about making the first impression, Submarine managed to do all that. New faces, new visuals, delightful sound (do check out the music too) and a debutant director. So here’s our recco post, written by writer-filmmaker Neeraj Ghaywan. The film is based on Joe Dunthorne’s novel by the same name.
The physics teacher would never leave when the bell rang. She would always borrow five more minutes. I’d grow impatient, check my digital watch, pack my books, tie my shoe laces and then ride my bicycle like a bat out of hell. 8 kilometers of a ride back home. My mother would scream from the kitchen, asking me to wash my feet. I would hurl the shoes in a corner, put the bag on the sofa and run for the remote. The Wonder Years on television was the best time of my day. Everyday 4:30. I almost grew up with Kevin Arnold. I even tried to impersonate his attempts to impress Vinnie Copper, his high school sweetheart. Not that any of the impersonation worked but The Wonder Years has been a part of my formative years, of coming of age sitting by a sea of fireflies brimming on a creek. And I reclaimed that part of childhood watching Submarine.
Every classroom has this guy who would be quiet in the class, make drawings with no meanings in his history book, watch his mates play from the class window, go mute before making up a coherent sentence but would write eloquently about a spaceship dream. Ayoade’s Submarine explores the mind of such a person, Oliver Tate, by being that person as a narrative. Set in Swansea, we are lead into Oliver Tate’s adolescence; the first love, the first kiss, taking a blow on his nose when asked by bullies to call his girlfriend a slut, his attempt to save his parent’s marriage and his coming of age. We never see Oliver Tate as a viewer from outside of his world but we become him and that is the most beautiful thing about Submarine. Rarely does the narrative veer off Oliver but in a deeper subtext, Submarine is about those people, who live in a shell. If they walk by a street, you’d hear guffaws and dry giggles from around the corner but they’d scuttle away and then talk to themselves when no one’s around, which is most of the time. Oliver’s girlfriend, Jordana has bouts of eczema, doesn’t talk much, mostly in half sentences. She lights match sticks to calm herself. They both meet in abandoned warehouses, under rusted iron bridges and playing with fireworks, signifying their unspoken rejection towards accepted social norm and the bourgeois that surrounded the 80s. Oliver’s parents haven’t had sex for seven months. Oliver makes a graph of the light dimmer’s intensity every day, which is how he arrived at this number of 7 months. His mother works in an office where you bring your own cake for your birthday. Consumed by repressed love for an ex-boyfriend who’s just moved in next door, she turns more distant towards her husband. Oliver’s father is a marine biologist, completely uncool and looks like a black and white image of an old book called “Human Impacts on the ancient marine ecosystems”. It is a story of social freaks trapped in their submarines of consciousness, cocooned by denial and ceasing to resurface.
As children we would go in to disconnected reality being heroes in our own land of imagination. Oliver has exaggerated visions of what it would be like when he is dead; the candle light tributes, the news channels covering the most important death since Lennon, pretty girls from the class crying and he would suddenly return to life with a cape strung on his back. These subtle moments, abled by an outstanding score by Alex Turner and visually arresting photography by Erik Wilson, make Submarine a film you’d want to go back to those yesteryears. It’s set in the 80s but looks timeless almost like a utopian world. Craig Roberts as Oliver Tate emotes volumes with his restrained poker face, throughout he has a face of a kid who is just get caught stealing father’s money. Yasmin Page playing Jordana Bevan has great screen presence enough to intrigue you with questions about what is eating her from inside, why lighting a match calms her and not to forget the red over coat. Sally Hawkins as a confused wife with a fractured past, emotes histrionically but never goes over the top, although it takes a while to adjust to her jumpy demeanor. Noah Taylor as the quiet father performs with aplomb being a caring father and a carefree husband at the same time.
The film’s greatest strength is its seamless writing, making it undecipherable where drama ends and where humor begins, although the quasi-horror chapter titles seemed out of place. The ability to marry pathos with humor is an art and that shows best in the scene where Oliver confesses about having a girlfriend. The parents don’t express it but we know from their measured pauses that they are happy that he is not gay. The mother fashions a deplorable thumbs up at him while the father gives him a tape to listen to music for various stages of love. He also mentions that there is a track for break up (Reminded me of Nicholson in As Good As It Gets).It’s hilarious but it is also meant to convey how the parents see their son from their own psychological baggage.
May be because it has been adapted from a book but I was impressed with the character detailing of Oliver. If he is about to have a sex date, he dresses up like a gentleman and plans everything in detail. He reads The Catcher In The Rye, sports a Woody Allen poster on his wall and his idea of a date movie is The Joan Of Arc. His mother thinks he is a mentally retarded and reads psychology books to deal with him. Oliver spies on his parents and blurts lines from that book just so that the mother feels glad about her assertions. Never does the narrative binge into self-conscious melodrama. The only sad moment was the dinner at Jordana’s place and when her father screams at him “You’re family”.
As we reach the climax of the film we see Oliver dealing with a dilemma: whether to attend Jordana’s crisis, which would ensure that she stays his girlfriend or go break into that guy’s house where he thinks his mother is cheating on his dad. The dilemma is enacted deftly by Roberts holding the restraint on melancholy and Ayoede depicting the fear with that awe-inspiring bridge dream. I would have loved it even more had the film ended just before the ‘epilogue’. It would make it a different film altogether. I know not many wouldn’t agree to it. To keep this post spoiler free, I am not detailing it here. However, such a thing can be ignored for what a great film it is. Watch it if you want to take a trip back to those wonder years of adolescence. Looks like the Brits found their Udaan 🙂