Review: In ‘Submergence,’ a Love Story Sunk by Geopolitics

Review: In ‘Submergence,’ a Love Story Sunk by Geopolitics


Alicia Vikander and James McAvoy in Wim Wenders’s “Submergence.”

Samuel Goldwyn Films

The German-born film director Wim Wenders has almost always been a nomad. The heroes and antiheroes of his films dart restlessly between continents, between planes spiritual and material, finding themselves with no direction home, if a home they ever had.

In “Submergence” Mr. Wenders depicts two wandering souls who find each other, fall in love and part: one to explore the darkest depths of the Atlantic Ocean, the other to wind up chained in a windowless room, held captive by Somali jihadists.

“Submergence” was adapted by the screenwriter Erin Dignam from J.M. Ledgard’s acclaimed novel of that name. The book is a romance, a thriller and a meditation on geopolitical conundrums, ideology, science and metaphysics. It is written in precise, refined, allusive prose. But Ms. Dignam’s script distills the novel into middlebrow Hollywood treacle.


Trailer: ‘Submergence’

A preview of the film.

By SAMUEL GOLDWYN on Publish Date April 3, 2018.


James McAvoy plays James, a British spy whose cover identity as a water engineer he extends to his personal life. Alicia Vikander is Danielle, a scientist. The two meet at a quiet, very high-end hotel on France’s Norman coast, where each is decompressing before a mission. When Danielle explains her work to James, he calls her an “oceanographer,” and she tells him there’s no such thing, really, as oceanography, and that she’s a bio-mathematician. Soon they are frolicking on a beach, albeit with some seriousness, around the relics of World War II.

Showing the chemistry between these two characters in the boy-and-girl-fall-hard scenes is no problem for Mr. Wenders. Many of his pictures, including some of his greatest, are, to put it bluntly, swoony hymns to hetero-normativity. (See, for example, the finale of his 1987 “Wings of Desire.”) There’s a scene in this film in which James and Danielle chat in a wooded area, and the way Mr. Wenders frames the characters, the shadows of tree branches falling on their attractive faces, and how he makes the sound of a light wind prominent under their conversation, casts an intimate spell. Which is what cinema is supposed to do, arguably.

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