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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

On DVD: ‘Submarine’ navigates first love

Published: October 21, 2011
Section: Arts, Etc.

“Submarine” is an indie British comedy-drama that has recently come out on DVD. In short, it is the epitome of an indie film.

The hero of this film is 15-year-old Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), who is exactly how you would imagine an adolescent Brit to be: a tad sensitive, more than a smidge strange and, most of all, a twisted romantic. While we would picture a sulking boy sitting on his bed woefully listening to the Smiths, however, the opening scene involves Oliver narrating what he imagines would happen when he died.

Oliver Tate is such an amazing protagonist because he portrays himself in such a way that the viewer is essentially forced to make assumptions about him—assumptions he continuously defies. When we are introduced to his pyromaniac love interest, Jordana (Yasmin Paige), Oliver tries to earn her love by getting involved in her interests, which, incidentally, involve bullying another girl in their class. After they start dating, as Oliver describes it, “Jordana and I enjoyed an atavistic, glorious fortnight of lovemakin’; humiliatin’ teachers and bullies in the week. I have already turned these moments into the Super-8 footage of memory.”
This footage translates into a date montage that is beautiful, both cinematically and emotionally. They do bizarre things on their dates ranging from Jordana’s burning Oliver’s leg hair to breaking into an abandoned amusement park. Though it occasionally toes the line, it never goes from enjoyable to corny, which is very difficult when depicting “first love” scenes. This is made even better by Oliver’s quest to lose his virginity; he tries to convince Jordana to sleep with him using the following three reasons: “1. You are fatally in love with me. 2. Best to do it before legal. 3. Bound to be disappointing, so why wait?”

If this film solely focused on the relationship between Jordana and Oliver, it would only be half as great as the final product. To add another level to the film and to make the film more realistic, there is a parallel storyline involving a possible affair between Oliver’s mother and the newly moved-in self-proclaimed psychic. In adolescent films, it is very easy to keep parents out of the story unless they are playing a mentoring or supportive role. In “Submarine,” the parents are just as helpless in terms of the events around them as Oliver is. Later in the film, with a hint of Oedipal affectation, Oliver needs to choose between going after his mother or for Jordana.

In many ways, “Submarine” is a sort of “Juno” meets “Amelie.” Like Juno, Oliver is a kid trying to figure things out like first relationships and how to deal with kids judging you but, like Amelie, he’s had the upbringing that explains many of his strange traits. His father is a heavily bearded, antisocial marine biologist, his mother is going through a mid-life crisis and Oliver is overly aware of their sexual patterns. At one point, in order to make his parents’ relationship work, he writes his mother a letter that involves the line “I want to find your sweet spot,” before signing it with his father’s name. It may or may not be due to the fact it is a European film, or perhaps it’s just part of the atypically dysfunctional family, but Oliver and his family share every detail of their sex life with each other.

Each moment of the film is hectic and vital to the overall flow. There is never a dull moment and, with each scene, you can’t help but be bewildered yet also further intrigued by what just happened. When the movie ends, there’s an undeniable urge to re-watch the movie and live life through Oliver’s eyes just one more time.