Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation
Lost in Translation
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There’s nothing quite like watching Lost in Translation with other obsessed fans, even if it’s for the second (or third) time. While you’re at it, track down Sofia Coppola’s Oscar-winning script online and give it a read. Another one of her isolating-women films set in Priscilla was a jewel in her cinematic crown so far, but I think Lost in Translation may be Sofia Coppola’s best film. After you’ve seen it enough times, your mind starts to take over. You go deeper than surface level and begin to feel differently. Is Lost in Translation a meditation on our place in the universe — how we travel around this planet and try to make ourselves at home, often with mixed results?

Think about this: Our ancestors used to travel halfway across the world, colonize everything they could find, fall madly in love with someone nearby, and that’s basically where things would end for them. Is there anything else? How do we relate to one another when we see through everything and can’t pretend that pleasure-seeking is anything but an ultimately empty activity? Luckily for us all, there was a 20th-anniversary screening of Lost in Translation held recently here in Los Angeles! That means some small pocket of millennials got to sit around and talk about this early-aughts indie movie inside an actual theater again — so now seems as good a time as any to revisit and review Lost in Translation. Let’s step back from the story of foreigners finding connection where they least expect it.

It’s been 20 years since Francis Ford Coppola’s daughter stood on that stage and collected her Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for what became known as Lost In Translation — which remains Bill Murray’s favorite role he has ever played, by the way; not that it should surprise anybody because he did get nominated for an Oscar playing Bob Harris, who was loosely based on Bill Murray himself, an actor who is in the “hosting stage” of his career (as it is called in the film), though, interestingly enough, that idea would be parodied just a few years later by John Leguizamo’s character in The Menu.

But seriously, you might forget how funny this movie is on account of Bob’s hilariously deadpan antics throughout the first act of Lost In Translation. I saw it recently at Brain Dead Studios here in L.A., and I’m telling you: People were rolling. And not just at Bill — Anna Faris shows up to play Kelly, a pop star–slash–actress (and a not very good one at that). She really nails down every single thing about what makes those types so annoying but also kind of endearing.

It’s so crazy looking back at these baby-faced versions of Scarlett Johansson as Giovanni Ribisi’s wife and Giovanni Ribisi as her former-photographer-turned-eccentric-musician-husband because, I mean, remember: Years later Scarlett Johansson would be nominated for two Academy Awards in one year for Marriage Story and JoJo Rabbit! And she’d deserve them! She’s great! But man — she is such a sharp and well-spoken actress now; she couldn’t be more different from then when she was playing Charlotte in Lost In Translation.

At the same time, Murray starred in another highly praised picture by Coppola called On the Rocks, but it was Lost in Translation (with Rushmore) that helped remake his image from comedy legend into complex leading man. And Ribisi had worked with Coppola on an earlier film, narrating her movie adaptation of The Virgin Suicides. In an interview with MovieWeb about Somewhere — perhaps her best film since Lost in Translation — Stephen Dorff echoed what he’s said before about working with Coppola. It makes sense, then, that Roger Ebert gave Dorff’s 2010 film four stars.

The reason I think of Somewhere after revisiting Lost in Translation is because of this philosophy I hear coming through these usually dialogue-less films. Can you think of a single character who has to speak in order to convey something? They don’t tend to win us over. “Actions speak louder than words,” right? Back in 2003, quiet moments like this were talking up a storm nationwide about the human condition. No One Will Save You and Silent Night might as well be made by Sofia; such is life imitating art imitating (and so on). To make up for its wordlessness, Lost boasts one of the greatest soundtracks ever put together — original music by Brian Reitzell and My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields.

In Somewhere Johnny Marco (Dorff) drives himself around in circles; he stares at walls; he hires dancers to come over and fill the space. In Lost in Translation Charlotte curls up in her hotel bedsheets and looks out the window at Tokyo trying to offer infinite thrills. Can it? Could success or art or marriage at such a young age? Maybe not those things but maybe some temporary true love — platonic or mysteriously romantic — with an aging movie star; maybe just for now.

Lost takes two people who see that void at everything’s core and lets them live with it. They’re out of place wherever they go; everyone else can chase pleasure or exoticism forever, able to enjoy consumption because they don’t see the void. Bob’s wife cares about carpet color swatches; Bob could not care less. Charlotte’s husband cares about what’s cool and fashionable; Charlotte could not care less. And their anhedonia is obvious in the strip club scene where, surrounded by naked pleasure and hedonism, they are confronted with their own boredom.

Bob and Charlotte are existentially lost in translation. They are dissatisfied in a world of bright lights and big cities, fast art, sex, hotels, entertainment — all that stuff down there. They do not have the banal pleasures as other people and can’t understand them either. The whiskey commercial scene shows this off well: Bob asks a short question; his five words turn into 50 for the translator. The director goes on for practically 60 seconds explaining his intention; the translator gets by with barely three words. Something is missing here between Bob and others

We don’t ultimately understand them, and they are isolated from us and the world around them. However, for a few days, they were in the emptiness together; for a few days, they toyed with their own nothingness from the “fun” and “pleasure” and “meaning” that so many of us look for, and found that nothingness to be transcendent. It’s hard not to get teary-eyed or feel chills just thinking about this emotionally uplifting scene again. Lost in Translation forever!

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