Lost in Translation and Lifelong Monogamy


It is hard to understand the 2003 movie “Lost in Translation” directed by Sofia Coppola which won the Academy Award for the Best Original Screenplay, and many other awards. Award-winning movies, in general, are difficult to understand as they convey a deeper meaning of ordinary life that cannot be easily grasped by one and all. Such movies can also be generally interpreted in different ways and there is usually some mystery around them.

“Lost in Translation” has no structured presentation as a movie story. It is about two souls – one old and the other very young – who are lost in themselves, but in a foreign land – in this case, Tokyo. The title is also a pun on the Japanese language which none of the main characters in the movie understand (all being Americans). I felt that the movie had nothing going on for quite a while, and suggested to my wife that we should see something else on Netflix. She also felt the same way for quite some time. However, we finally persuaded each other that we must see such a well-awarded movie to its end and see what really happens towards its end. And, what did we see at the end – nothing, yes, simply nothing. There is no conclusion, and not surprisingly, there is no beginning and no middle as well!

Deciphering the movie’s message depends on your understanding of the American culture, way of living, and its psyche about relationships. It happens to be vastly different from Asian way of living. Lifelong monogamy has much less significance in America than it is in the East. We can see the challenges that Bob Harris (Bill Murray) has in his life with his wife of 25 years who is far away in the U.S. He struggles with his forgetfulness (about key dates in his daughter’s life), his wife’s curve balls (like when she says that he can stay back in Japan if he likes Japanese food so much), the difficult long-distance conversations he has with his wife, his comments about children, etc., In our lives, all such things are considered normal – we have issues with our spouses and our children, who doesn’t, but yet we proceed living our lives in the best way we can. Not that there absolutely no distractions or temptations, but we reconcile with our choices we made so assiduously in our lives, and realize that any deviations could cause untold hardships to our families. It must be the same way for Americans, but it sometimes appears so easy for them to deviate from a straight line of a solid family orientation.

On the other hand, Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), comes through as a vulnerable, unhappy married housewife, who has not figured out what to do with her own life. She is unsure of herself, and does not know what to do next. She wanders around Tokyo in an almost aimless manner. Her husband is a celebrity photographer, who is always busy, and I wonder why he brought her along to Tokyo if he is always going to be away on assignments. She is left all alone in her hotel room, but it does not jell when the director shows that she has a number of friends in Tokyo – that comes through as unbelievable. Scarlett Johansson delivers a good performance in her role, but she pales in comparison to Bill Murray who delivers an outstanding, seasoned performance as a lonely rich Hollywood actor who has lost it all, though he has money and family. When he gazes through the night sitting in the hotel bar, it is so very communicative – he has a forlorn face, completely lost and lonely, and really sad and totally tired. He ignores the other bar drinkers and does not connect with anyone else easily. He is not connecting with his apparent fame and recognition anywhere in the world.

So the movie is about these two lonely people essentially who hook up in the hotel bar and develop what appears to be a platonic relationship which allows them to enjoy each others’ company while exploring the nightlife of Tokyo. It is indeed cool that two people who are separated so widely by age can reach a silent understanding of each other and then go on to eventually share their thoughts in an intimate fashion. It is rarely the case when anyone will easily open up their most personal views to a total stranger. But it happens in an almost effortless manner between Charlotte and Bob, and several times I thought that Charlotte desires a physical relationship from her longing look at Bob.

After seeing the movie, and thinking for a while, I am getting a bit more clarity on the director’s intentions and messaging. This is a movie for Americans as it almost perfectly reflects the issues and challenges that they face in their married lives (recall both Bob and Charlotte are married folks but yet totally lost and lonely, even with reference to their respective partners). Their ability to resolve those issues and challenges is always almost messed up due to the distractions that life throws at them – in this case in a remote country with a unique language, wherein one’s perceived loneliness can only increase!

Interesting though complex movie, but too slow moving for my taste. Both Charlotte and Bob do not attempt to resolve their problems by talking their issues out with their partners, and I wonder why. May be then there is no story for the movie!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

19th May 2018

 

Advertisements