Are there spoilers here? Nothing major. You better see this movie anyway dammit!!
Lost in Translation – 2003
Written and Directed by Sofia Coppola
For the past two falls in a row we have been blessed with two wonderful films that celebrate love and the bond that can be formed between two people. Last year we had Punch-Drunk Love and now there is Lost in Translation.
Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is a washed-up movie actor who has been reduced to doing commercials in order to pay the bills. He’s currently spending a week in Tokyo filming ads for expensive Japanese whiskey. Also staying in the same hotel is Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), a recent college graduate who is visiting Japan with her rock 'n roll photographer husband. Charlotte’s husband leaves her behind in the hotel to fend for herself while he has to leave town to finish a job he is working on. Bob and Charlotte eventually meet in the hotel bar where they connect and form an unlikely relationship based on their mutual loneliness and alienation within the strange city of Tokyo. They spend the rest of the week together sharing themselves in the dark humming hours of the night and trying to find someway to reconnect their lives with the rest of the world.
The performances of Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson in this movie are some of the most touching and spectacular things I have seen in years. Their characters are drawn in light deft touches that allow us to fill in much of the space for ourselves. We learn more about these people through their expressions, stolen glances, and half-uttered sentences than we ever could from sweeping pronouncements or rambling soliloquies. The entire film feels like an exercise in how to achieve maximum impact though a minimal amount dialogue. Even the one time that Bob and Charlotte get into a fight lasts probably no more than three sentences, yet the words contained therein are devastating.
Bill Murray makes Bob Harris into a man who could be hilarious (and probably was at one time), but has decided that it’s just not worth the effort anymore. He will still be a faded star shilling in liquor ads while a wife who no longer cares for him is half a world away. But the entrance of Charlotte gives him a reason to play and once again derive some joy from life. Murray takes control of the scenes where they are at the sushi bar or wheeling around the hospital, once again showing us his genius for ad-libbing. Scarlett Johansson does an excellent job giving us a very educated young woman who is still utterly lost in how how she wants to live her life. In most of their scenes together, the two of them are able to share the screen as equal partners.
I loved that the bond formed between the two of them is something that reaches above sex. They search for understanding and share their true feelings instead of just sharing a bed. Young Charlotte is unsure of what to do about her marriage and heavily flirts with Bob, eventually culminating at a party where she sings a karaoke version of “Brass in Pocket” to him.
Cause I’m gonna make you see
There’s nobody else here
No one like me.
I'm special, so special.
I got to have some of your attention
give it to me
But Bob doesn’t give in to her temptations and counters with Roxy Music’s "More Than This." They continue on with their conversations and adventures and Bob tells her about marriage and children. It seems like Bob’s kids are the only things that make him stick with his wife and the jobs that are left for him. "They are miracles," he tells Charlotte one night, “And you will discover that children are the most interesting people you will ever meet.”
I don’t want to give the impression that this movie is just some artsy fartsy mope-fest, it is also damn funny. The film find its humor in the absurdities of life like terrible lounge singers, the ring tone on Bob’s cell phone, or a seasoned call girl who has done the whole "power-fantasy" bit a few too many times. The entire city is Bill Murray’s playground as he draws laughs from his strange interactions with random Japanese people. Although I would have loved to see him take in a game of Dance Dance Revolution.
OK, probable spoiler here, but it seems like almost every review mentions it.
The ending to this film is absolutely perfect as Bob finally kisses Charlotte and whispers a final something into her ear. Only we are not allowed to hear what he says, only her muffled, crying "OK. Alright." response. What could he have said?
"You are beautiful. I love you. Call me when you get back to America."
"Had we but world enough, and time..."
"This is what was in the briefcase..."
"More than this - there is nothing"
Frankly, I like not knowing.
As an aside, one of Bob Harris' biggest hit movies was Lock 'n Load, a buddy-cop action/comedy where he played a detective who was partnered with a monkey. Can we PLEASE get Bill Murray to make this?
After seeing the movie, my friends and I parted and I drove home alone on the dark highway. Phantom Planet hummed over the car stereo while my headlights attempted to cut through the darkness and light a path home.
And decimal points and dollar signs
taxes penalties and fines
It’s come to cut you down
Numbers, passwords, protocol
it's not enough to save your soul
It’s come to cut you down
Bring you right back to zero
I was encompassed by a palpable sense of loneliness as I realized that everyone had someone they were going home to, except for me. They would be going home to their loves, to their connections. I would go into my already darkened house and speak to nobody. I didn’t want to go into that house.
This movie had filled me with a sort of crackling energy that I needed to share with somebody. I needed to grab somebody’s hand and run off into that deep shadowy night and we would have adventures and teach each other about life under the electric blinking lights of the city. We would share and we would laugh and we would talk about love and look at the stars. We would sit by the lake and let the lapping waves teach us their mysteries. We would run and hide from the police cars patrolling the beach with their spotlights.
BrooksMarlin really needs someone he can go out and share life with tonight.
and all is quiet...
I went to bed.