Director: Wim Wenders
Screenplay: Erin Dignam
(Some mild spoilers below)
There are some novels in some murky corners of the literary world that (arguably) should never be adapted into a film. Submergence seems to be of that kind. Based on the novel of the same name by J.M. Ledgard, this multi-themed film wants to hit you hard, but lacks the punch.
On the surface, this film is a story about James More (James McAvoy),a British-spy who is going off to Somalia to do his usual work, posing as a “water-engineer” and Danielle Flinders (Alicia Vikander), a bio-mathematician who is diving deep into the Atlantic, to study about the deepest and darkest corners of the ocean. Before starting for their individual destinations, they both take a vacation to France, where they meet and fall in love around oceans, while having conversations about oceans, eventually parting ways to meet their eventual but unfortunate futures; James is captured by Somalian jihadists, and Danielle is lonely (she says so herself) in the sea, all the while longing to see each other again.
The film does have some picturesque frames, an occasionally rich background score and an engaging performance by James McAvoy. But the principal problem with the film is its script. It is very confused and filled with some truly lame dialogues, trying to tie three different stories into one, but ultimately coming off as being incoherent. Individually, McAvoy’s story arc in Somalia comes off as the strongest one. It also includes the most memorable scenes of the film, (the scene where McAvoy walks into the ocean, expecting to get shot, but is eventually spared, is an affecting one). On the other hand, the love story in the film falls flat, because of the unconvincing build-up, and a bit of a lack of chemistry between the actors. Even though they are gradually “submerging” into their individual journeys laden with darkness, we can’t really connect to their desperation to see each other. Alicia Vikander has little to nothing to work with, as after being established as a workaholic deeply passionate about the mysteries of the ocean, she is reduced to a crying woman who is pining after her holiday lover (who is not texting her) and a phone signal. There are some interesting metaphors about oceans , some philosophical questions about human existence, some horrifying realities about terrorism , but none of them ever tie up together to actually mean something, so they end up being just some lost opportunities; in fact, it actually felt like its themes are just… there, and the film itself is very, very far removed from whatever it wants to talk about.
Submergence is not a chore of a film to sit through, but it’s too confused and bland to be particularly enjoyable. What a pity though, because it probably could have been something special.