Lost In Translation

Lost In Translation is somewhat of a bizarre film – its slow and introspective and features multiple scene where there is no dialogue and nothing much happens – hence comes across as a film that doesn’t have much to say…on the surface. However, the depth of the film comes to light when more attention is being paid to the minor details. The film has won a lot of critical acclaim, which to be completely honest doesn’t really have any bias on my reviews, and a good example is that a film such as The English Patient, even with all its critical acclaim, still bores the pants off me (not that I wear pants being a Monkey)

Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is an aging movie star who has flown to Japan to shoot a television commercial for Suntory whiskey and is getting paid a large amount of money to do it. His marriage is cold and somewhat stifled and even though his wife remains in the States she still manages to send him notes and faxes and couriers over carpet samples to peruse. Any affectionate words that might have been between them are no longer used. It’s not to say that their marriage is breaking up, it’s just desolate. Also Bob is wallowing in a midlife crisis induced by a floundering career and just hasn’t felt alive for a while now.

Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) has come to Japan with her husband John (Giovanni Ribisi). John is on assignment to shoot some rock stars and with him being absent for most of the time Charlotte is left to stare out of her hotel window trying to figure out her place in the world.

Eventually, the two insomniacs, Charlotte and Bob, meet in the hotel bar and strike up a conversation. Soon they decide to escape the walls and claustrophobia of the hotel and explore the idiosyncratic culture and environment around them. Each night they go out and explore the city together and each night their friendship grows. With each other they can act without restraint in a strange and foreign land and soon their similarities begin to show as they talk about their depression, insomnia and uncertain lives.

Lost In Translation is surprisingly funny at times, but not the belly-chuckling mirth derived from say Blazing Saddles or Naked Gun, but is more of a ‘wry smile and a smirk’ film such as The Royal Tenenbaums or About Schmidt. Much of the humour is gleaned from Harris’s clashing with the at times surreal Japanese culture and includes his complete confusion and lack of desire for a prostitute sent up to his room by some business associates and his appearance on a TV show featuring the Japanese ‘Johnny Carson’.

Bill Murray is solid as Bob Harris and brings genuine warmth to the screen. Jetlagged, helplessly lost with the people around him and totally out of sync with the metropolis, Murray’s dropping eyed weariness really hits the mark and captures the essence of Bob Harris. He still holds true to his comic background, but his character has much more depth and is a ‘hidden’ clown in comparisons to the characters he usually plays. Harris could be funny all the time if he wanted to be, he could be the life of the party with crazy karaoke and wacky television shows, but he doesn’t. Being funny is what he does for a living and right now he is too old, too tired and too sad to do it for free…except when he is with Charlotte – this is the key to Murray’s performance, the wry faint comic gestures and the subdued humour. Director Sofia Coppola has claimed that if she couldn’t have gotten Bill Murray for the role of Bob then she would have not made the film. Scarlett Johansson as Charlotte is also good, but her performance is really not emotively or challenging enough to be considered as brilliant as the critics have lauded. The problem is that even though she is attractive with her pillowy lips and husky voice, she spends most of the film being a reactor of her surroundings and of Bill Murray’s character.

One of the keys aspects of the film is that it avoids a huge potential Hollywood pitfall but not having the two leads jumping into the sack together for a quick session of horizontal belly dancing. They share much more than that such as their feelings rather than something as generic as genitals. These are two people whose friendship blossoms from loneliness and familiarity of a shared homeland. Would they have met and gotten to know each other in a different, say American setting? Probably not and as a result the environment almost becomes a secondary character pushing them together.

The film does hinge completely on whether the audience ‘gets’ the characters or not. It would be an oversimplification to divide the film going world into ‘knuckle dragging, explosion loving Neanderthals’ and ‘foppish, beret wearing, arty-farty film snobs’, but depending on which group you belong in might have a major effect on whether you enjoy this film or not. I for one can completely understand why people would dislike Lost in Translation as having watched it I was in one camp and the second time I was in the other – bizarre you might say (being in the right mood definitely helps with this film!)

There are a few weaknesses with the film and the key one is the smugness that prevents the total identification with what Sofia Coppola is trying to get across to the audience. If it was clear that she was showing the heartless side of mutual infatuation, the film might not have suffered so much and would be more than just a study of attraction in isolation. The underlying tone of improbable romance is captured perfectly, however there is a little too much hyperbola about the film that could let some of the audience feeling let down afterwards.

Score 8/10