Submarine is the first feature film that I saw at the 2011 Nashville Film Festival. It’s directed by Richard Ayoade and is adapted from the 2008 novel written by Joe Dunthome. Submarine follows Oliver (as he narrates), played by Craig Roberts, as he deals with the issues and adventures of adolescence.
The story is told in five parts: a prologue, three parts and an epilogue. In the Prologue, Oliver introduces himself and fantasizes about the reaction of the kids at school and around the world upon his death. Like many teenagers, Oliver is a tad self-centered. In Part One, Oliver joins in on the bullying of a girl at school in order to impress Jordanna, a girl on whom he has a crush. Oliver and Jordanna strike up a relationship where they spend time together at industrial parks, secluded beaches and abandoned theme parks setting things on fire.
Part Two focuses more on Oliver’s home life. His mother, played by Sally Hawkins, and his father are not getting along. Oliver is on the up-and-up regarding his parents’ relationship and sex life because he regularly searches their bedroom and eavesdrops on their phone conversations. Oliver fears that his mother is having an affair with their new neighbor, Graham, who is a mystic and motivational speaker. Oliver thinks he’s a ninja.
In Part Three, Oliver learns that Jordanna’s mother is sick and has been asked to join the family at the hospital on the same night that he fears that his mother will rendezvous with Graham. He is forced to choose between being with his girlfriend at the hospital and staying with his depressed father while his mother is out having an affair. Part Three deals with the aftermath of his decision. Jordanna is dating someone else and his parents’ relationship has only gotten worse. Oliver sees his mother and Graham as well as Jordanna and her new boyfriend at a beachside New Year’s Eve party. Oliver breaks into Graham’s house, drinks his liquor and sets his bed on fire. Oliver is now the one who is depressed as we see him pick up some of the habits that his father had as well as contemplating suicide. The Epilogue is all about reconciliation. Oliver’s parents have reconciled and Jordanna has returned to his arms.
The film is focuses on Oliver and his adolescent mind’s reaction to what’s going on around him. He is learning what it means to have a girlfriend and also to deal with his parents’ dwindling marriage. When Oliver learns that Jordanna has issues of her own (in dealing with her sick mother), we see that it’s almost too much for him to take. He has enough dealing with his own problems so he withdraws when he’s required to be supportive of others. In many cases, Oliver steps in and intervenes when his parents’ relationship gets to its low points. He writes letters to his mother from his father and speaks with his parents about very personal things that really shouldn’t be talked about between parent and child. The effect is that our main character, Oliver, has quite a bit riding on his shoulders…So much so that we see him becoming his dad towards the end.
This is all done with a whole lot of style and humor, but it doesn’t fail to impress upon the audience the seriousness of the issues in Oliver’s life. At a certain point, Oliver contemplates suicide. The cinematography is small and quirky. The acting is great. I would compare this to the likeness of a Wes Anderson film, without the indulgence. There are a lot of instances of fireworks and arson in the film which I’m sure represent something like the burning desires of a teenager (or adult for that matter). There are some really well put together scenes of Oliver and Jordanna that exist in Oliver’s mind as scenes shot in Super 8. The score is overly dramatic, but it works. It’s beautiful and doesn’t impose too much on the film itself. All in all it was a great start to the 2011 Nashville Film Festival, which continues through next Thursday, April 21.