Film: Submarine (Warp Films 2010)
Director: Richard Ayoade
Screenwriter: Richard Ayoade, based on the novel by Joe Dunthorne
Cast: Noah Taylor, Paddy Considine, Craig Roberts, Yasmin Paige, Stefan Rhodri, Sally Hawkins
?For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation.?
Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
?I decided to lighten the blow with some light arson.?
Oliver Tate, in Submarine
When you were a teen, did you plaster your bedroom walls with magazine pictures and memorabilia? I know I did. So does Oliver Tate, a serious young man with an attraction to fire and explosives.
The pictures in these wall collages are windows into the adolescent mindset, where life weighs heavily on us and everything matters. They say something about us, these collages: that we’re visually oriented, that we can’t stand the thought of being ordinary, that we love creative clutter, and that we have parents willing to give us a bit of room to develop on our own terms, even if it means wrecking the decorating scheme.
I’ve always liked teen flicks?good and bad ones?because they so brazenly tackle the Big Issues (even if they sometimes give confused perspectives). Submarine is a specifically a teen angst film, and this artistic medium is an especially wonderful launching pad for questions like What comprises a healthy family? Why do people die? Why should we not kill ourselves? Will the things that happen to me now determine the course of my future? Why do I have these feelings that make me crazy as a bell tower bat?
The cream of this crop, like Rebel Without a Cause, go the extra mile and make cogent but covert statements on current socio-cultural phenomena. For its part, Submarine shows up New Age philosophy for the patent idiocy that it is: an insult to the teenage intelligence, which is generally too cynical to get excited about auras and mind-bending.
A teen’s obsession is more with death. Also identity, or the structure and substance of the true self, an area that seems to have been hijacked by the New Age aficionados that the film lampoons. Personal identity is certainly the obsession of the generation that spawned Oliver and his peers.
they’re told to ask themselves, ?What kind of a student am I???as if they could possibly know, and as if it would make any difference if they did. Most people think of themselves as individuals,? says Oliver. ?This motivates them.?
Oliver himself has a great deal of individual self-consciousness, which manifests itself in fantasies and rationalizations, and sometimes in a kind of paralysis that mortifies him.
Craig Roberts and Yasmin Paige have a wonderful chemistry, delivering rapid-fire, terse sarcasms and beaming a supernatural pleasure in setting things on fire and lighting off explosives. Paige as the dark and subtle Jordana is a pleasure to watch, and Oliver is deliciously pathetic.
Oliver’s uptight parents do their best to help their only child develop into a ?normal? citizen. When they discover that Oliver has a girlfriend, they are beside their usually moribund selves. Oliver’s father actually puts together a mix tape to help Oliver navigate the stormy seas of a first romance (the tape even includes a break-up song should worse come to worse).
But the parents are messed up, too, in their way, having been set adrift by a society that had no real expectations of them. And so people stumble along, doing their best to remain happy enough to go on living. It’s a struggle.
Still, this film remains a comforting viewing experience, replete with montages of Oliver and Jordana out in nature happily holding hands, embracing, kissing, laughing?and lighting fires. Not your typical run-in-the-meadow romance shots, but very charming indeed.
The writing in this movie is spectacular. And the fact that it was written and directed by Richard Ayoade, the zealously nerdy Moss in The IT Crowd, well, That’s just the bee’s knees.
In the end Oliver and Jordana choose to brave all the uncertainty together, facing not each other but the setting sun, freeing each other to cope with all the uncertainties of life with a healing bravado.
Submarine fulfills eight of the Mindful Bard’s criteria for films well worth seeing: 1) it is authentic, original, and delightful; 2) it poses and admirably responds to questions that have a direct bearing on my view of existence; 3) it provides respite from a sick and cruel world, a respite enabling me to renew myself for a return to mindful artistic endeavour; 4) it is about attainment of the true self; 5) it inspires an awareness of the sanctity of creation; 6) it displays an engagement with and compassionate response to suffering; 7) it makes me want to be a better artist; and 8) it makes me appreciate that life is a complex and rare phenomenon, making living a unique opportunity.
Wanda also penned the poems for the artist book They Tell My Tale to Children Now to Help Them to be Good, a collection of meditations on fairy tales, illustrated by artist Susan Malmstrom.