“I often imagine how people would react to my death,” says 15-year-old Oliver Tate.
Momentary glimpses into the mind-set of a teenage boy engulfed by adolescent angst take shape in such asides throughout the glorious coming-of-age masterpiece that is “Submarine.”
Oliver (Craig Roberts) relishes the thought of candlelight vigils held in his honor amidst press conferences where family and friends can barely speak through their tears. He feels comfort in expecting to be missed, and even more so in smugly sharing that sentiment with a willing audience.
As gloomy as his outlook tends to be, Oliver paints his externalized fantasies in a highly engrossing fashion. He creates a compartmentalized bubble within which we see the world as he does. The resulting atmosphere is as stagnant as the dreary clouds that seem to consistently linger just above his tiny Welsh home, but the realities of suburban mundanity are refreshingly punctuated by the imaginative spirit only a child can muster.
While the part of Oliver that ponders his funeral procession is endearing, he becomes too engrossed in his fantasies to notice the death of his parents’ marriage. He knows they aren’t having sex (“the bedroom dimmer is never left halfway down anymore,” he observes), which makes it all the more comical when Mr. Tate (Noah Taylor) awkwardly tries giving his son advice on how to seduce girls. (“You know I once ripped my vest off for a woman,” he boasts.)
The dissolution between Mr. and Mrs. Tate comes as no surprise to us, seeing as our experience as spectators is not entirely isolated to Oliver’s perspective. He lets us in when he wants to, an art every teenager perfects at his age.
We’re ultimately invited to feel superior to the mundanity we see before us. Mrs. Tate (marvelously played by Sally Hawkins) leads a life in which the only perks are in simply getting by. “You look good for your age, for a mum,” says her son. And so we realize happiness comes in small doses disguised as feelings of simple adequacy, seeing as in her world “on your birthday, you’re responsible for bringing your own cake to work,” Oliver informs us.
The barrier between Oliver and reality eventually shatters, thanks to his blossoming affections for classmate Jordana (Yasmin Paige), which allow him to funnel his naive feelings toward (not “of,” mind you) love into a plot to reignite his parents’ passion.
Oliver’s plan isn’t elaborate or inventive, but it does force him to ponder the complexity of menial details in his everyday life that often go without notice. It’s through his eyes that we grow with him, seeing as the film plays like a lyrical expression of teenage angst teetering between innocent fantasy and sophisticated adulthood.
“Submarine” is undeniably a coming-of-age tale, albeit in beautifully alternative fashion that values the retention of the teenage experience as one ages. While Oliver may not have completely come of age, he’s certainly a bit older by the film’s end.