Sunday, March 10, 2013

Lost In Translation (2003) *****

In retrospect, it’s clear that “Lost in Translation” is the career pinnacle to which Bill Murray was building all along.  Watching some of his quirkier, earlier films like “Quick Change” and “Groundhog Day,” you can see glimmers of the world weary soul that would become the Bob Harris character.  In “Lost in Translation,” Harris is a fading actor who travels to Tokyo to turn his fame into some cash by doing a Japanese whiskey commercial.  He is also escaping his life, which is populated by children to whom he is not close, and a wife who tolerates but doesn’t respect him.  But of course he cannot escape himself.  Enter Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), a young woman in Tokyo with her photographer husband, feeling neglected while he pals around with movie stars.  Japan is supposed to be a great adventure for Charlotte, but she winds up feeling lonely and disappointed in the experience.
As dissatisfied fellow travelers, Bob and Charlotte hit it off immediately when they meet in a hotel bar.  They wind up enjoying Tokyo together, and spending a lot of time talking about life.  Both feel that sense of relief you get upon meeting someone who sees the world as you do, who seems to understand you, but the difference in their ages and the fact that both are married makes their few days together bittersweet.
I think “Lost in Translation” is one of those films that should be re-visited every decade or so.  Re-watching it recently, I was struck by how I got different things out of it this time around.  On my first viewing, I found Scarlett Johansson to be not exactly chubby, but un-toned.  Now, as an older man, I can appreciate how beautifully lush, soft, and feminine the 19-year-old actress was in this movie.  The first time around I thought that Bob should have just gone for it; slept with Charlotte and maybe left his wife for her.  Now, as a father myself, I appreciate how complicated Bob’s feelings for Charlotte are, with attraction mixed with a paternal desire to protect her, and sadness, because he recognizes that, like himself, Charlotte is destined never to be completely happy.
Much has been made about the final scene, where Bob whispers something in Charlotte’s ear.  Everyone wants to know what he says to her.  The point, of course, is not to know what one actor actually said to another in the scene, but to fill in the blanks ourselves.  Knowing the characters as we do, and knowing how they have connected in just a few days, what would we say, and what would we want to hear?
For those who haven’t seen it, this sounds like it could be a slow, boring, talk-fest, but in fact it is quite hilarious.  I haven’t yet mentioned all the physical comedy, including Bob’s interactions with the Japanese entertainment world and his bizarre introduction to the world of Japanese prostitution.  Anna Faris is also hilarious as a chatty, self-absorbed movie star.  My favorite funny line of the film, however, has to be Charlotte’s comment that her husband is “using some sort of hair products,” which somehow sums up her entire state of disaffection.
Still, it is the movie’s heart, not its laughs, that have made it stand the test of time.  The theme behind all this comedy and drama is contained in the title of the film.  Every human being is isolated in a world of our own thoughts and feelings, and our efforts to share those with others are always fraught.  Whether the barrier is a language difference, a culture clash, or a couple of decades’ difference in age, every message in a bottle we send out there runs the risk of being lost in translation.

5 stars out of 5

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