Lost In the Crevices – Brett’s Overlooked Film of the Week: “Lost in Translation” (2003)
Sofia Coppola’s crowning achievement: how “Lost in Translation” becomes less about superb form and more about giving into its seizure of our sincerest sentiments
Few films are more thoroughly realized in their exploration of temperament than Sofia Coppola’s elating, comfortably subdued and confident tug-of-the-heart-strings “Lost in Translation.” The film, among many things is, at its core, a study of marked traits and lost souls caught in limbo. Bob (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson): two individuals who have stumbled upon existential crises at near opposite points in their lives. Charlotte’s existence has fallen into the directionless grace period of post-collegiate, pre-career adulthood. She’s an individual whose knowledge has predisposed her to tendencies usually harbored by those beyond her years–she’s introspective and possesses a continually probing mind. At 21, she floats comfortably by extroversion’s wayside; she’s an old soul and a perpetual people watcher, inward-thinking and retrospective.
Bob Harris (Murray) is a celebrity on the down side of his career. He has come to Tokyo to shoot whiskey commercials for a welcoming, much needed sum of a few million dollars. He’s estranged from his wife and daughter for reasons that remain unclear, but he’s reached a directionless stretch himself, nonetheless. As a fifty something, some might consider his circumstantial behavior to be indicative of a midlife crisis. In his off time, he sits at the hotel bar sipping on the whiskey he begrudgingly endorses. One evening, after a bout with insomnia and a restless mind, Charlotte makes her way to the hotel bar where she unintentionally befriends Harris.
Charlotte and Bob’s (platonic?) meet-cute in the hotel bar—which seems to grow organically out of some sort of foretold happenstance—becomes, after its deliberately (but appropriately) paced duration, the hinge by which the remainder of Coppola’s film swings. What transpires is a short-lived, but altering bond between two individuals seeking understanding and common ground during times of mutual isolation, and how undeniably comforting it must be for them to find meaningful companionship in such an unexpected place.
This unfolding of unexpected catharsis is the exact notion that the rest of Coppola’s film revolves around, and what makes Bob and Charlotte’s rapport exceptional is how they proceed with such tranquil solidarity and good intention. Bob never crosses the line because the substantive aspects of their short lived, shared experience trump the less meaningful presence of mere lust. Murray’s Bob is the driving force behind their onscreen chemistry: his natural gift for such controlled offhandedness allows Bob to come off as worn with experience, but not all-knowingly so. The performance is nothing short of magical, almost as if Murray’s knack for maximizing onscreen effortlessness was the only option for a director looking for just that.
So, the two take off into long, spontaneous, karaoke induced nights to converse, laugh, share and connect. One evening, after a long conversation while lying on Harris’ bed, he begins to sense Charlotte’s fear and fleeting optimism. It’s a sequence that encapsulates their ephemeral bond in ideal fashion: He knows that she’s smart enough to endure what the future holds, but senses her hesitation and her suffocation by the element of the unknown. They fall asleep–his hand resting on her ankle and all is understood. Nothing more.
Constructed to fit a unique filmmaker’s singular vision like a form-fitting glove (which, according to the films’ detractors is its most obvious flaw), “Lost in Translation” is a film that moves with the seamless ebb and flow of what it knows best: restrained, unobtrusive stylistic and emotional elation. By the time its conclusion arrives, Coppola’s slow-moving form of cinematic catharsis has absorbed us, and it gradually becomes less about how we’ve arrived, but, rather, how we’ve come to empathize with our leads.
“Lost in Translation” has remained Coppola’s best work to date, and it’s one of the great films of the previous decade. It’s a reminder of how the connections, experiences and relationships we harbor are irreplaceable and possess exceptional value, especially in a world prone to instilling feelings of overwhelming uncertainty. It’s most refreshing revelation, though, arises simply out of its being: it’s a humorous, modest and moving portrayal of our perpetual tendencies to seek someone who relates to our fears and can empathize with our incertitude.