by Amrit Paul
Every man is an island, we’ve been told.
Metaphors are easy when they make sense.
Oliver Tate (Craig Williams) is fifteen – the most teenage teenage can get, you see. He hasn’t just stepped into his teens, nor is he just about to leap out of it.
“I don't quite know what I am yet. I've tried flipping coins, listening exclusively to french crooners, I've even had a brief hat phase but nothing stuck.”
Submarine is originally a book written by Joe Dunthorne, later turned into a film by Richard Ayoade in 2010.
It's 1986. You could say Oliver has a fairly normal life. Teen stuff, really – bullying, hero-worship, finding company in mixtapes.
However, it’s bullying to impress his classmate, Jordana.
His object of hero-worship is himself.
His mixtape is a gift from his father to help him through his teenage.
It isn’t about the gift, but about the help he needs.
Jordana (Yasmin Paige) is a difficult girl.
She’s the unromantic pyromaniac who’d singe her lovers’ leg hair.
Her idea of romance isn’t candlelight. It’s candle flame.
Oliver’s father, Lloyd is depressed, the mother, Jill, ill.
“Depression comes in bouts. Like boxing. Dad is in the blue corner”
“My mother is worried I have mental problems. I found a book about teenage paranoid delusions during a routine search of my parents' bedroom.”
Their marriage is ebbing, Oliver suspects, because of his mother’s ex-boyfriend Graham moving in next door.
Thus, our hero has two primary concerns – to save a marriage and to lose his virginity before he turns 16.
Now, this isn’t a story where problems get sorted over vapid, rapid guitar strumming, forged letters and – wait for it – murder.
Or is it?
But guitar strumming!
The soundtrack fits snugly into the rugged shores of this seaside Welsh town, complete with originals by Alex Turner from Arctic Monkeys (the album, itself, is worth another post).
You could say Oliver does resemble Alex Turner.
At parts, I pitied how awkward Oliver is. A hopeless romantic, sure, but awkward.
But then I realised how this awkwardness isn’t really that. It’s the consciousness of his own narration.
“You’re the only person I would allow to be shrunk to microscopic size and explore me in a tiny submersible machine”
You might pity how the dark-haired girl he likes a hell lot is barely as warm.
(Blame the weather?)
But, as colder events thaw her, you’ll realise how Oliver preferred the previous icy fire-lover more.
“She's been sensitized, turned gooey in the middle. I saw it happening and I didn't do anything to stop it. From now on, she'll be writing diaries and sometimes including little poems and she'll buy gifts for her favourite teachers and she'll admire the scenery and she'll watch the news and she'll buy soup for homeless people and she'll never burn my leg hair again.”
This is a teenage story. But not love. Not only. It’s not even the chief part.
I love the book. Dunthorne’s narration is so good, it’s almost all of the screenplay.
This is one of the rare instances where you should read the book after you’ve watched the film.
Because the faces, the places, the air, the cold - they all make more sense this way.
But listen to the album first.
Submarines, I read somewhere, have trouble communicating with radiowaves, because they are deep underwater, and literally under a lot of pressure. Their different frequencies also make it difficult for them to communicate among themselves.
We’ve been told every man is an island.
Aren’t we submarines too?
Metaphors are easy.