To submerge oneself can be a willed activity—or not. The act of submerging connotes indulgence, but at the same time can imply a externally or internally forced suppressed of one’s desires.
The polysemy of submerge is played upon by writing duo Sophie O’Connor and Kat Holmes in their first full-length feature, Submerge, a film that considers, without judgement, how one lives in a world of instant gratification.
The film commences with a shot of Jordan (Lily Hall) entering the water. She is an overachieving 20-year-old university student in History, who is training to become an Olympic swimmer. Largely driven to excellence by her mother (Kath Gordon), Jordan struggles, especially hindered by an ongoing shoulder injury, as the Olympic dream remains an elusive goal. At the same time Jordan craves success, she is noticeably indifferent to it—the dream is her mother’s, not her own. She just wants to be a history scholar, and continue to pursue her archival research.
Interestingly, the decision to make Jordan an elite swimmer was not simply do to the fact that swimming is a popular Australian sport. “Kat had originally written Jordan as a tennis player and then, six months later, The L Word started airing. Dana the tennis player became such an iconic character that, even though Jordan was different in every way to Dana, we knew that we would have to change the storyline,” says O’Connor. “I had been toying with the idea of using water to convey the shifting essence of Jordan’s worlds, and so it became a natural progression for Jordan to become an elite swimmer.”
“The academic angle is more important than it may seem on the surface,” says Holmes. “It’s not just about providing Jordan with a distraction from the pressures of a swimming career; it’s also about the juxtaposition between the mind and body. Australia is a country that worships its athletes, but often neglects to recognise the important work being done in universities around the nation.”
Overwhelmed by pressure, particularly after her mother gives her a one-month ultimatum to “do better,” Jordan seeks refuge in sex, drugs, and alcohol. Her roommate and sometimes friend-with-benefits Lucas abets her escapism, dragging Jordan away from both her studies and the pool, and into the arms of sophisticated fetish and alternative lifestyles nightclub owner Delilah (Georgia Bolton). Suddenly a whole new world is opened up to her. It is a world free of constraints and expectations, where sumptuous decadence and all forms of sensuality are embraced. She can forget about her training, her studies, and her fraught affair with the newly single Angie (Christina Hallett), who just split from Jordan’s (male) academic advisor.
The vacancy in Jordan’s eyes, portrayed with a keen passion by Hall—who won two best actress awards for this performance, at FilmOut San Diego 2013 and Downtown Film Festival L.A 2013—bespeaks a kind of youthful tendency attributed to Gen. Y’ers. In their blinkered view, saturated by wealth abundance (especially in Australia), the plethora of choices in life presented before then becomes its own kind of burden. Jordan, in all of her cocaine-snorting, pansexual glory, cannot cope, and the consequences not only affect her swimming career but her academic career as well.
Submerge, which was ten years in the making, is only the second Australian lesbian feature film to attain commercial release (after Emma-Kate Croghan’s Love and Other Catastrophes in 1996). The film’s creation, full of struggle—from receiving only private funding and having to shoot in 24 different locations—hopefully will precipitate a sea-change in LGBT cinema in Australia.