Lately I’ve been feeling more inspired to participate in life again. Whoa, that sounds way more melodramatic than I intended. What I mean is, for a while I was very much stuck in my own head and working very single-mindedly on a couple of particular goals, and I closed myself off for a while. I’m starting to crack open the shell and look at the outside world a little bit more lately. Whenever I get back into a metamorphic phase in my life, where I feel like everything is very lovely and I’m open to inspiration, I tend to rediscover my love of film. There is something so simple and beautiful about movies: at their best, they can be like 2-hour lyrical, visual poems.
That’s how I felt about Submarine. I’d always been interested in seeing the film because it’s written and directed by one of my favorite British comedians, Richard Ayoade, who’s in a bunch of awesome TV shows, and is now starring in The Watch. Anyway, he seems like a super awesome guy, so I figured a film by him was bound to be interesting–and I was right!
The film is about a precocious teenage boy, Oliver Tate, who starts to self-consciously usher himself into adolescence. It’s framed as an autobiographical film made by himself, which makes sense, because all of his notions of teenager-dom seem to be gleaned from books and movies, not from actual real life experience. I think this is an element anyone who was an artistically-inclined teenager can relate to. Hell, I still relate to it now–when I’m trying to make sense of the world around me, what better than books, movies and music to help me? I feel like art is all about codifying things that, by their very nature, cannot be codified.
However, what makes the film interesting is how it systematically shatters Oliver’s romantic illusions about life and adolescence by throwing him into messy, real-life situation. The film is divided into three acts: the first focuses on his courtship of a girl named Jordana. He calculates every move toward her very meticulously, dissecting her likes and dislikes, and using this information to win her affection. It’s not manipulative–they’re the actions of a very clueless boy who has no idea how to approach a girl. The montages where they’re experiencing impulsive, teenaged love are really beautiful and moving; they brought me back to when I was still a teenager, and things still felt new and exciting. This is what exactly what Oliver wanted out of a relationship with Jordana.
Then, Oliver gets some things thrust his way that he doesn’t want: Jordana is dealing with some difficult family issues that Oliver is too immature and afraid to deal with, so he runs away and buries himself further in his own fantasies. He also starts to notice his parents’ marriage is fracturing, the focus of act two. Both of these experiences force Oliver to truly mature and grow up, but in a really fun and funny way.
The kid who plays Oliver is great–he hits that perfect combination of guilelessness and pretentiousness that, to me, recalls Max Fischer. The supporting cast really knocks the ball out of the park, though. The people who play his parents consummately portray a long-married couple who have drifted apart and don’t know why. And the girl who plays Jordana is perfect–she’s not too perfectly pretty, but is still very alluring and mysterious in her own way. What makes her character affecting, though, is that the script gives her an inner life. She’s not just there to usher Oliver through adolescent experiences; she has her own problems to deal with. The movie succeeds because it shows the problem with seeing people as players in the movie of your life, rather than as human beings with their own needs and desires. Luckily, I think Oliver is able to gain a little bit of self-awareness by the end of the film, and that’s all you can reasonably expect from a fanciful 15-year-old boy.