Welcome to the first edition of Hall of Fame, a hopefully weekly (or bi-weekly depending on my schedule) blog where I’m going to talk at length about some of my favorite movies. I’ll be discussing exactly why I like these films so much, including some pivotal plot points and even endings so if you haven’t seen the movie I suggest you don’t read this until you do.
The first film of this new feature is my currently favorite film, which I thought was a good way of starting.
Lost in Translation
Tokyo, one of the most populated and convoluted cities in the world; its language, culture and lifestyle almost impenetrable to foreigners. This is the setting for Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, a film that is as much about the quiet moments as it is about dialogue. It’s an exploration not of a country but of life.
How many of us wouldn’t dream to go to with someone we loved to a new, fascinating place where nobody would recognize us? That’s what Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) wants and expects when she travels to Tokyo with her photographer husband, but he is there for his work. She wants to be with him but the last thing on his mind is his wife. He leaves her alone for long periods of time and all she does is stare outside her huge window, what is she thinking about? We can only imagine.
And then there’s Bob, an actor whose best days are long behind him. He is in Tokyo to earn 2 million dollars doing a whiskey ad. You can tell he doesn’t really want or care about the money, he is only doing it to keep his wife back in Los Angeles happy. He’s almost emotionless to the news that he forgot his son’s birthday again and his wife keeps pestering him with messages about things he obviously doesn’t care about.
They are both staying in the same hotel and neither can sleep.
A lot of people complain that during this time nothing happens. I disagree. Through their interactions with their surroundings we understand much more about the characters. Charlotte walks around the city, going into temples and arcades, there’s some kind of magic about everything she sees, she’s obviously interested in trying but she uses the fact that she doesn’t know how to as an excuse not to do it, which goes far beyond these simple things.
Bob does his photo shoots trying his best to understand just what the hell his directors want. He is not annoyed, he just wants to get everything over with and go back home to stop being miserable in a strange, weird environment to be miserable in a more familiar one.
It’s this state of seemingly perpetual loneliness that allows me to connect with the characters. We’ve all felt lost at some point, in one way or another. Sofia Coppola shows exactly how it feels like manipulating these characters in an almost hypnotic way. It’s hard to take my eyes out even if in the exterior it seems like they are not doing much.
And then the magic happens.One particular sleepless night they meet for the first time in the hotel bar. They’ve seen each-other around the hotel before but they’ve never talked until this moment. The conversation is short and not too deep, neither of them seems to be awfully interested in the other and yet they are more truthful with each-other than they have been with anyone else, even their own partners.
As the week passes they grow closer and closer, spending almost every moment of their short stay together. Their relationship is more than just romantic or sexual attraction and Coppola makes it clear by having them spend a whole night in bed fully-clothed, just talking about life, though they obviously have feelings that go beyond a simple casual friendship; they connect in a way I’ve rarely seen characters in a movie do. They don’t kiss or have sex, they just exist there, in the same place, at the same time, understanding what the other is going through and loving every second of their company. It’s a beautiful thing to look at.
The movie is just a series of tiny, quiet and almost inexplicably powerful moments: A conversation, a joke, a smile, an awkward pause. The one that has the most effect on me happens during a night out with Charlotte’s friends; they go to a club, then to a party and finally to a karaoke bar where Bob sings the 80s song “More than This”. After the chorus, during a short pause he turns around and just stares at Charlotte, she stares back and after a little while she gives him a little smile. It lasts only a few seconds but the way they look at each-other and the way the scene is shot and written says so much more than a simple dialogue would. It’s the most beautifully poignant moment in a movie full of them.
Murray and Johansson have an almost magnetic chemistry, the dialogue magnificently flows between them and every gesture, whether it’s a wink, a smile or a simple touch of hands feels important. It’s almost effortless how they inhabit their characters and yet allow the audience to put themselves in their position without losing their personality and making every emotion feel real. Simply put: They are human.
I also enjoy the fact that the movie acknowledges that not everything in life, even for a lonely person, is never-ending sadness. There are many hilarious scenes and dialogue mostly provided by Murray. One particularly hilarious moment is when one of his Japanese assistants sends an aggressive exotic dancer to his room who keeps asking him to “lip her stockings”, the expression on Murray’s face as he tries to understand what the hell she’s asking him to do is priceless.
The other star of the movie besides the protagonists and Coppola is cinematographer Lance Acord, who captures every setting and brings them to life with a colorful yet modest look. The way he shoots the scenes with Charlotte looking outside her window is awe-inspiring; he is able to convey through the images exactly what the characters are feeling.
The emotional roller-coaster that is this story culminates in the most powerful ending I’ve ever seen in any type of media. As Bob is about to leave Tokyo he sees Charlotte walking down the street, he promptly gets out of his limo and runs to her, there’s a moment of silence and then he hugs her. She starts crying and he whispers something to her ear, we can’t hear what he says but it doesn’t really matter, it is a secret between them. They kiss briefly and say one final goodbye before continuing their different paths. The adventure is over, they’ll probably never see each other again but in the end the movie leaves a hopeful message: We are all meant to be found, it doesn’t matter where, when or how long it’ll last.
Every time I watch Lost in Translation I feel something different, I learn something, I question the purpose of life, I question the meaning of happiness. It’s not all the time that a movie deeply influences you or makes you think and feel, let alone makes you discover new feelings and thoughts each time you see it and I’ve seen this movie over 20 times since I first watched it in 2006. That’s why it is holds a very special place in my heart and it is my favorite movie