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Film / Submarine

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"Most people think of themselves as individuals, that there's no one on the planet like them. This thought motivates them to get out of bed, eat food, and walk around like nothing's wrong. My name is Oliver Tate."

Submarine is a 2010 British coming-of-age comedy-drama film written and directed by Richard Ayoade in his directorial debut. It was adapted from the 2008 novel of the same name by Joe Dunthorne, and features an original soundtrack by Alex Turner. Craig Roberts, Yasmin Paige, Noah Taylor, Sally Hawkins, and Paddy Considine star.

Set in 1980s Wales, the film follows Oliver Tate (Roberts), a precocious 15-year-old boy of unrivaled genius — according to no one but himself. He struggles with bullying and alienation from his peers, but when he falls in love with Jordana Bevan (Paige), a mischievous, straight-talking girl in his year, he sets out to become "the best boyfriend in the world".

Meanwhile, the rocky relationship between Oliver's parents Jill (Hawkins) and Lloyd (Taylor) is threatened when Jill's ex-boyfriend, new-age guru Graham Purvis (Considine), moves in next door. This motivates Oliver to make some unorthodox plans to ensure that his parents stay together and that his relationship with Jordana can thrive.

This film contains examples of:

  • "Dear John" Letter: Jordana formally breaks up with Oliver via a letter informing him that she's seeing someone else.
  • '80s Hair: Surprisingly averted for a film set in The '80s. Most of the characters have long, straight hair more befitting the 2010s. The only exception is Graham, who has a spectacular mullet.
  • Book Worm: Oliver is given a dictionary and thesaurus as presents, and further gives Jordana three books as a present.
  • Brainy Brunette: Oliver and Lloyd are smart brunettes, though Oliver is pretentiously so.
  • Butt-Monkey: Zoe Preece gets bullied at school "because she's overweight and won't accept notes in class", and an early scene where a group of kids including Oliver and Jordana play "keep away" with her bookbag in the woods ends with her falling into a pond. She ends up moving schools due to her unhappiness from being bullied.
    • May also exist on a meta level as well. In the book, she has a bigger role, having lost weight and enjoying her life in a new school after she's bullied out of her old one, and her success is contrasted with Oliver's immature victim complex. In the film, she's not shown again after Oliver and Jordana bullying her brings them together, and Oliver never gets comeuppance for his actions.
  • The Cameo: Executive Producer Ben Stiller has a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo as an actor in a soap opera on TV.
  • Character Development:
    • Jordana becomes slightly more sympathetic to others following her mother's tumour. This causes Oliver to distance himself from her.
    • Oliver himself becomes more conscious of the people around him by the end.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Graham, a psychic who thinks he can see colors in everyone's personality.
  • Coming of Age Story: Played with. The film has the typical arc of a coming-of-age story, with a teenage protagonist who gets his first girlfriend, and has some adventures, but he ends the movie with less self-assurance and sense of place in the world than he had the beginning. Oliver certainly seems to think he's the star of one such story.
    Oliver: I'm not sure if I've come of age, but I definitely feel older.
  • Credits Gag: The American release of the film opens with a disclaimer to American audiences directly from Oliver.
    My Dear Americans,
    The film you are about to see is a biopic of my life. The events take place (not so long ago) in a proud land called Wales. Wales is next to England, a country you pretend to treat as an equal. My homeland has produced Catherine Zeta-Jones, Tom Jones and some other people. You have not invaded my country and for this I thank you.
    Submarine is an important film. Watch it with respect.
    Fond regards from your protagonist,
    Oliver Tate.
  • Cringe Comedy: Most of the comedy comes from intentionally awkward, stilted scenes.
  • Fake-Out Make-Out: Oliver sees his mother behaving suspiciously with Graham, and quickly pulls Jordana into a kiss so he can simultaneously hide and spy on his mother. She doesn't realize the reasoning behind it and makes fun of him for spontaneously yelling "Kiss me!" at her.
  • Falling-in-Love Montage: Subverted; the first scene at the beach seems like this, but Jordana will freely admit to not loving Oliver. However, the "Hiding Tonight" sequence shows some shades of this, as when Jordana gives Oliver a Longing Look when he's not looking.
  • Fire/Water Juxtaposition: A central motif. The pyromaniac Jordana is strongly associated with fire, while Oliver and his father are associated with water, symbolizing depression and emotional distance. Scene transitions where Oliver is close to Jordana are given a red filter, while ones where he's not have a blue filter. Jordana's fire livens up Oliver's life, but they're not very compatible, fitting with the symbolism. The film also has a lot of shots of flames next to the ocean.
  • Genius Book Club: Oliver gives Jordana his three favorite books so she can get to know him better. They are "Shakespeare's most adult play, more mature than Hamlet", a book by Friedrich Nietzsche, and The Catcher in the Rye. All mark him as a smart and well-read kid, as well as a pretentious twat.
  • Gilligan Cut: After Jordana kisses Oliver, she tells him she plans on distributing the pictures she took of them kissing around school, and says, "Now there's conclusive proof that you're maybe not gay." Cut immediately to a scene the next day with a crowd of people chanting "gaylord" in a circle around Oliver while Mark demands Oliver admit that he's gay.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: The first half of the movie involves the development of Oliver's romance with Jordana. The second half involves him investigating his mother's infidelity.
  • Hands-Off Parenting: Oliver's parents never really yell at or seriously get mad at him, even when he does pretty objectionable stuff like spying on them, or breaking into and vandalizing a neighbor's house while heavily intoxicated.
  • Heroic BSoD: Oliver after breaking up with Jordana; he copes with the pain in ways including going to the beach alone and "[waiting] 'till the sky catches up with my mood" and submerging himself into several bodies of water in a full suit.
  • Ignored Confession: Subverted. Jill just assumes Oliver is joking when he tells her he has a girlfriend.
  • Inner Monologue: The film is narrated by Oliver talking to himself.
  • Jerkass: Almost everyone in the movie, with the exceptions of Lloyd and Zoe.
    • Jordana, even after her Character Development; Oliver states that she likes to bully "in moderation" despite not being popular herself. She's a lot less so in the novel. She may be considered a Jerk with a Heart of Gold... Well, not a golden heart, perhaps, but a softer side. The scene where Oliver has an "early Christmas" dinner with her family shows her tender side, first by hugging her upset father and later showing some emotion to Oliver, hugging him first. When Oliver breaks up with her, it's also obvious how hurt she is by him.
    • Oliver, already one from the start, takes a level in jerkass later on when he ends up pushing Jordana away when she needs him.
    • Chips is a much straighter example, being a school bully with no redeeming features.
  • Kids Play Matchmaker: Oliver is trying to keep his parents from splitting up, and resorts to things like spying on his mother and monitoring his parents' sex life to do so. His efforts do pay off in the end.
  • Lady in Red: Jordana wears a bright red coat; see Red Oni, Blue Oni below.
  • Landline Eavesdropping: Oliver is convinced his mother is cheating on his father, so he hides and listens in on the second phone line to all his mothers' phone calls. He discovers that she has some kind of relationship with Graham, and starts stalking them based on the information he retrieves from these calls.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Parts of Oliver's Inner Monologue show that he envisions his life as a movie, and at several points, cinematic techniques that he thinks his movie would use are then used by the actual film itself.
    • Oliver wishes that life could be like American soap operas, because "whenever things got dramatic, you could just fade the picture down and pick things up again later." The scene fades out immediately afterwards.
    • Oliver muses during one scene that he'd want the camera craning up as he walks away, but all he could afford would probably be a zoom-out. The camera does indeed zoom out on him (in hilariously clunky fashion at that) as he says this.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Jordana is somewhat of a Manic Pixie Jerkass early in the movie to the introspective and inward Oliver, in that her influence isn't necessarily positive, such as motivating him to join in on Zoe's bullying because it entertains her. Subverted in that most males want the MPDG to reciprocate their feelings; Oliver breaks up with Jordana when he's worried she'll get too "gooey." Oliver is interested in her as long as she's livening up his life, but once he sees some depth and realizes that she has feelings and a personality too, he loses interest, which could be something of a deconstruction of the trope.
  • Manipulative Bitch: Jordana, according to her. Oliver comments to himself that he doesn't think she's as good as blackmail as she likes to think.
  • Maybe Ever After: In the final scene of the film, Oliver and Jordana find each other on the beach. Jordana says that Oliver was "horrible" to her, and Oliver admits that he "made a mistake", but they end the film walking into the sea and standing side by side. What will come of their interaction is ambiguous, but it shows that at the very least, they've now gotten to a point where they don't mind each other's company.
  • Mistaken from Behind: The "end scene" Oliver envisions for his personal movie revolves around this playing out for dramatic effect. When he actually gets to live it out in the final scene of the film, he's caught off-guard when it's actually the person he thought it was — Jordana.
    "'s getting dark and I mistake a girl for Jordana. A girl with the exact same frame and the exact same hair. And when she turns around, I see her face is nothing like Jordana's. And she asks, 'Do I know you?' And I look traumatized and say... 'No. You don't know me. You don't know me at all.'"
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Jordana Hates Being Touched and shrugs off Oliver's attempts at putting his arm around her. After he meets her ill mother, however, she's seen hugging her upset father, and afterwards she shocks Oliver when she initiates a hug — showing how much she needs him and making it hurt all the worse when he breaks up with her for that exact reason.
  • Operation: Jealousy: Oliver and Jordana's relationship starts with her kissing him and distributing photos of the act to the whole school in order to make her ex-boyfriend jealous. It doesn't really work, and Jordana ends up sticking with Oliver instead.
  • Pet the Dog: Chips does at least try and defend Oliver when he's being harassed by Jordana's ex. Tragically, it doesn't go very far.
  • Plot-Inciting Infidelity: Jordana's ex-boyfriend cheating on her with another girl in class causes her to get with Oliver as revenge, kicking off the romance plot between them.
  • Present-Day Past: Set in the eighties, but the fashions and themes exploring intentional insincerity are more fitting for a 2010's hipster style. Only the technology really fits with, or particularly needs the setting.
  • Pyromaniac: Jordana loves burning things, and her red coat channels this.
  • Ready for Lovemaking: Before Their First Time, Oliver does the uncharacteristically romantic gesture of sprawling in a sexy pose on his parents' bed, covered in rose petals and with a side of balloons. This fit of sentimentality enrages Jordana and she storms off, refusing to sleep with him, though Oliver eventually coaxes her back.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: The capricious Jordana is a Pyromaniac and dresses in red; the introverted, thoughtful Oliver is surrounded by blue and images of water. This becomes important later in the film, where Oliver can tell that Jordana read his note because of her red markings.
  • Sex as a Rite-of-Passage: Oliver makes it a goal to lose his virginity and clearly sees this as a key part of his coming of age narrative. After doing the deed, he's no more mature, and it doesn't advance his relationship. Subverted with Jordana — she's only willing to sleep with him after he tells her she should just "get itnote  over with", avoiding the meaning and ritual usually associated with the event.
  • Shout-Out:
    • In Oliver's disclaimer in the American release, he cites Catherine Zeta-Jones and Tom Jones as examples of Welsh people American audiences might be familiar with.
    • Graham's persona is reminiscent of Tom Cruise's character from Magnolia.
    • The film's depiction of a boy navigating a difficult home life and feelings of isolation greatly resembles The 400 Blows. The "end scene" of Oliver's personal movie that he envisions for himself sees him running down the shore of a beach towards the sea, which Antoine Doinel does at the end of The 400 Blows.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Oliver has quite a inflated opinion of himself, as shown from his opening daydream where he imagines that his death would result in such a massive devastation across the whole country that it would result in a Christ-like funeral before his "glorious resurrection".
  • Stalking Is Love: Oliver, although he just stalks anyone that interests him.
  • Stalker Without A Crush: Oliver starts stalking Graham because he's convinced he's sleeping with Oliver's mother.
  • Their First Time: Oliver and Jordana lose their virginity together, in accordance with the goal Oliver sets for himself in his inner monologue.
  • This Is the Part Where...: Oliver attempts to win Jordana back (while she's next to her new boyfriend, no less) by giving a brief rationale/apology, and outright says, "This is the moment where you leave him and come with me." Unsurprisingly, Jordana says no.
  • 20 Minutes into the Past: Set in The '80s, made in the 2010s.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Jordana calls Oliver out for being insensitive by not visiting her mother in the hospital, first sarcastically in a break-up letter, and then to his face.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Oliver certainly seems to think so.
  • Voiceover Letter: Several letters read in the film receive voiceovers by the character who wrote them. In some cases, we see an additional shot of them reciting the letter in person against a black void.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Out of defiance, Oliver vomits on the hood of Graham's van before going out one night. Unfortunately for him, it's a rainy night, so it's all washed off by the time he comes back.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Oliver thinks of his life in terms of film tropes, but he's always wrong about his role in the story and what is about to happen.
    • When he confronts Jordana after they've broken up, he says "This is the moment where you leave him and come with me," while she just stares at him.
    • Oliver imagines an artsy scene where he meets Jordana on the beach, only to find an Identical Stranger in her place. The scene plays out for real just as he imagined it, except that it really is Jordana. Oliver proceeds to waste his first encounter with her in a long time sputtering about how reality didn't match his expectations.