‘Submarine,’ Richard Ayoade’s 2010 coming-of-age flick, deals with the adolescence of Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), his first romance, and his attempts to confront the deteriorating relationship of his parents (Sally Hawkins and Noah Taylor). From the film’s beginning, Oliver is presented as emotionally distant — he justifies bullying in order to impress Jordana (Yasmin Paige) and nonchalantly declares that he ‘spies’ regularly on his parents, even knowing the last time they had sex. And, as his relationship with Jordana progresses, Oliver struggles to deal with their increasing intimacy and isolates himself. At the film’s climax, Oliver takes his parents’ marriage into his own hands, but both of the central relationships of the film are ultimately left at ambiguous crossroads.
Craig Roberts’s performance as Oliver is excellent — at its heart, ‘Submarine’ is an authentic exploration of the teenage psyche. In a genre filled with flat characters, the protagonist here is a nuanced portrayal of a selfish, detached, sometimes manipulative teenage boy. But Roberts manages to elevate this character — a character who could have otherwise been unsympathetic — into one for whom the audience deeply cares. This is perhaps best evidenced in the narrative dialogue, where Oliver’s thoughts and feelings are relayed directly to the audience, a creative decision which allows the audience to follow his trains of thought and truly comprehend why he feels the way he does.
‘Submarine’ has one of the most genuinely complex and morally grey main characters of any coming-of-age film. If you’re interested in reliving the memories of your embarrassing teenage years, or are a teenager yourself looking to put your own youth into context, then you’re missing out if you’ve yet to see Richard Ayoade’s feature-length directorial debut.