Lost in translation

What is it about a movie that captures something real? When do we feel like something genuine is happening before our eyes, and we forget it’s happening on the screen? I don’t know about you, but I always look for human relationships in every book, movie, song, photo, in everything around me. The way we touch and interact is the ultimate source of wonder for me, and also the fundamental place where we can learn from our mistakes. Very often, even if the movie is bad, I will watch it, if there is interaction between humans in it, if there is depth in the story, if there are consequences drawn, and lessons learnt. (For this very reason, movies that focus on form, or destruction, or there is no redemption at the end, bore me, or I will simply not watch them.)

Lost in translation has depth, it has feeling, it has redemption. Not much is happening, not on the outside. An actor in his fifties rides the waves of his fame in a faraway land, a land where the language is different, people are different, customs are different, sleeping hours are different, where he doesn’t know himself any more. In the same hotel, a young woman, recently married, is coping with loneliness in a place where she cannot connect with anyone despite her efforts, and where she cannot even lean on her husband, a young, ambitious, shallow guy who sticks to young, ambitious and shallow company. Two people stranded in the middle of a desert island surrounded by an ocean of strangers, they are bound to collide eventually: they go out together, talk, connect, get lost in each other’s loneliness. Understanding and an unbiased view of the other is all it takes for a good relationship to bloom, something psychologists and new-age teachers say again and again; but do we apply this in our relationships? Hardly. They do, although they come from different backgrounds; they watch with fascination as the other opens up under the beneficial effect of change, they spend time with each other, they help each other find themselves even in the harsh current of differences that threatens to stifle them both.

The mood is set with dreamy shots of Tokyo night-life, snapshots of local people performing local rituals that for an outsider seem out of this world, and a languid flow of melancholy music that sometimes leads to hope. Scarlet Johansson and Bill Murray are fantastic in their respective roles, they live their characters, we forget who they played before, we only see a middle-aged man who is hurting, and a woman in her late twenties who would like to fit in- but not at the cost of giving herself up. It’s a relatively long movie, seemingly longer than it actually is, because sometimes it does feel slow: Sofia Coppola juxtaposes the rushed Japanese lifestyle with the painfully slow passing of time to give a sense of entrapment and hopelessness. We are lost in the strangeness of the external world and the fact that both he and she would give anything to break out: he even jokingly suggests running away at one point.

I absolutely adore this film, from the first scene to the last. The ending puzzled me at first, but as years pass, I see it as cathartic now: there is no need to know their secret. It’s their secret, it’s their solution, their redemption. They find each other in a lost place and time, they help each other through, and their brief encounter gives them an experience that will make it easier for both of them to cope with what we call life. It is, in a sense, an existentialist story, without the grim outcome and the futile hopelessness that usually creates havoc: there is always hope, there is always a way out, and there is always redemption.

You just have to see it.

(Lost in translation, 2003, 102 min., dir.: Sofia Coppola)