Submarine

June 27, 2011 No Comments

Richard Ayoade’s first film  is a quirky and dark reminder why no one ever says “Gee, I wish I was fifteen again.”  The film has been applauded as unique and poignant and dismissed as “wink winkiness”  derivative of prior films, particularly Wes Anderson’s “Rushmore.”  What divides audience response is an intriguing question.  The film certainly borrows (or copies) the plight of Anderson’s Rushmore protagonist Max Fisher, another 15 year old, wise beyond his years but with “issues”,  struggling in a prep school world and nonetheless resolving  to shape his world as he feels it must be.   Max Fisher refilms “Serpico” for the school play;  Oliver Tate wishes that a film crew would follow him and record his life…opining through narrative device  that the desired “crane shot” would be replaced by a ‘zoom back.”  He is worried about his parent’s marriage and fearful that he will not have sex before his next birthday.  He plots to shape his life in the best way he can…via manipulation and subterfuge.   The dialogue is witty and somehow seems to remain true to the  age appropriate capacites of our protagonist.   Much of the response to the film depends on the comfort with such filmic devices (gimmicks?).  Oliver resembles Bud Cort of “Harold and Maude”  Is this an emotionally effective way of condensing his depression and suicidal urges or just taking the easy way?  Does the humor and clever observation allow the viewer to connect with the characters? What is the metaphor of water and the submerging via the submarine about?  Is it effective or too cute?   How would a viewer who had never seen a Wes Anderson film or “Harold and Maude” experience this film?  When does homage become copying?  (Having seen Rushmore many times I have to admit I was distracted by the similar styles, especially the use of Chapters….and I liked Rushmore alot more).  Still, how to evaluate a film on its own and not penalize it (unfairly?) because of the prior movies the audience has seen.   Indie films that deal with “coming of age” themes  are  certainly not rare.  They struggle with similar problems:  sacrificing emotional impact for clever, ironic, self referential statements.  And the music tends to sound the same (even if an original soundtrack like the one used in ‘Submarine”).   There are themes of parental depression and adolescent depression and suicide that make this a worthwhile film even if  it seems to limit itself…….there is a sweetness at the end which feels genuine….but it made me want to watch “Rushmore” again instead….what do you think?  by Jolyn Wagner

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