Submergence (2017)

  • Time: 112 min
  • Genre: Drama | Romance | Thriller
  • Director: Wim Wenders
  • Cast: James McAvoy, Alicia Vikander, Celyn Jones


In a room with no windows on the eastern coast of Africa, a Scotsman, James More, is held captive by jihadist fighters. Thousands of miles away in the Greenland Sea, Danielle Flinders prepares to dive in a submersible to the ocean floor. In their confines they are drawn back to the Christmas of the previous year, where a chance encounter on a beach in France led to an intense and enduring romance.

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  • At what point does a filmmaker lose their mojo? When is it that their characteristic style, once their blessing, suddenly becomes a hindrance? Take Wim Wenders, a major figure in New German cinema with such films as Alice in the Cities, The American Friend, Paris, Texas, and Wings of Desire, whose rambling and reflective style has rarely changed since his debut nearly half a century ago. What once gave his films an indelible poetic power has now become an albatross, rendering them nebulous and nearly nonsensical.

    His latest work, Submergence, features two hugely charismatic stars in Alicia Vikander and James McAvoy. Vikander plays Dani, a bio-mathematician about to head to the Arctic Circle to explore the deepest depths of the ocean. McAvoy is James, an MI6 agent posing as a water engineer in order to infiltrate an Al-Qaeda cell in Somalia. Before they embark on their respective missions, they repair to a resort hotel in France. There they encounter one another – the sparks are all but instant, the connection cemented seemingly within minutes.

    If only the film remained in the resort hotel. It’s easy enough to overlook the laughably serious dialogue since Vikander and McAvoy’s potent chemistry is more than enough to overcome such banalities. Less digestible are scenes that flash forward to James being held prisoner in Somalia and Dani bemoaning the lack of contact from James. The fact that Vikander has to utter the line “I’ve never been lonely before” with some modicum of conviction does not help matters. Much of the dialogue runs in this vein, and screenwriter Erin Dignam, adapting JM Ledgard’s novel, appears to have a flair for saddling actors with the most laboured and stilted dialogue. His previous screenplay was for Sean Penn’s The Last Face, which told a similar tale of two lovers torn asunder by their professions and which was, to put it mildly, cringeworthy on all counts.

    It’s a shame, since both The Last Face and Submergence have the bones to be sweeping love stories with social consciences. The latter especially has a stronger pairing in Vikander and McAvoy, a lush musical score by Fernando Velázquez, and landscapes gorgeously lensed by Benoît Debie. Unfortunately, Wenders mires all of them in murky meanderings. One won’t necessarily be bored, more numbed into mindless acquiescence.

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