Submergence is a geo-political tale of sea-crossed lovers
|National Post 20 Apr 2018 at 12:45|
Can a bio-mathematician and a CIA operative meet-cute? They can in Wim Wenders’ newest film, a geo-political romance starring Alicia Vikander and James McAvoy, and based on the 2011 novel Submergence by J.M. Ledgard.
When we first meet Vikander’s ocean-obsessed math genius Dani and McAvoy’s idealistic spy James (what a film had those roles been reversed!), they’re literally worlds apart as she explores the depths of the Atlantic while he rots in a makeshift Somali prison. With no answer to her cellphone calls, and innocent of his true occupation, she worries he’s quietly dumped her. The truth is much more dire.
From this painful beginning, the film rolls back a month or so to their chance meeting in a fancy hotel on the north coast of France. James tells her he’s a water engineer, the cover story he plans to use while looking for a terrorist in Somalia. She tells him about the layers of the ocean, from the sunlit epipelagic zone to the crushing pressure and blackness of the hadalpelagic. Over such multisyllabic sweet nothings, they fall in love.
But work calls them apart. The rest of the movie finds a distracted Dani trying to concentrate on her oceanographic surveys as visions of James come to her unbidden. He, captured and branded a spy, fixes on her memory as a way of keeping a grip on his sanity.
Wenders, who originally wanted to film this drama in 3D (he has worked stereoscopically twice before), makes great use of light and shadow to convey and contrast the worlds above and below. As he cuts from Somalia to the sea and back again, the two characters seem almost in contact. Certainly water is never far from either.
The ending may strike some as excessively simple, even hackneyed; James finds the possibility of deliverance through some remarkable coincidences. But if you’re sufficiently invested in the film, you’ll forgive it the odd narrative hiccup. As Vikander’s character jokes about her ocean-floor science, you may just be keen to get to the bottom of things.
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