Hawking Up Hairballs

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Lost In Translation

I recently watched Lost In Translation for the first time, and I'm sorry that I waited so long to see it, because I loved the movie. In fact, it has been haunting me. My mind keeps going back to it again and again. For those of you who haven't seen it, Lost In Translation is the story of a young woman and a middle-aged man from the USA who encounter one another in a chic Tokyo hotel. The woman, Charlotte, is played by Scarlett Johanssen. Her husband of two years is a fashion photographer and he is very busy on a shoot, so Charlotte spends a lot of time alone in her room. Bob Harris, played by Bill Murray, is a former movie action hero who is now pretty much washed up as an actor. A Japanese liquor company has hired him to shoot some commercials and advertisements. Charlotte and Bob Harris meet and strike up a friendship. Thereupon the story hangs.

Both Charlotte and Harris are at crisis points in their lives. Charlotte is just coming to realize what marriage means. You don't get the idea that she wants leave the marriage, nor that she no longer loves her husband. It's just that the ordinary romantic illusions about married life are evaporating and the mundane realities are coming to the fore. As for Harris, he's about fifty years old and he's going through his mid-life crisis. As is so often the case with many of us when we are experiencing life crises, Charlotte and Harris both feel alienated and alone. It was a brilliant decision by the auteur to set the movie in Tokyo. Given that neither character speaks the language or much understands the culture, this serves only to accentuate the sense of isolation.

In the ordinary Hollywood movie, Charlotte and Bob would have fall into bed and have a fling, but they don't. Nor does either one seem inclined in that direction. Instead a caring, if short-lived, friendship springs up between them, and it's this that really makes the movie. The premise is romantic to be sure. In a world in which everyone is out for himself, this movie argues that it is possible for a man and a woman to enjoy a truly selfless and meaningful friendship.

As I said, I loved this movie. Others haven't liked it, among them someone I know. I found that I was asking myself why. The person in question is outgoing and people-oriented. It occurred to me that it is those who have experienced a profound sense of alienation and isolation who would most appreciate the movie. To others the relationship between Charlotte and Harris just might not seem like a big deal. It is only their intense sense of being all alone that makes the connection they experience so meaningful and poignant.


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