Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Lost in Translation - A Review

How do you tell when you may've watched a 'post-modern' movie? When it's hard to tell anything else about the film.

It's never entirely clear what 2004's Oscar-nominated Lost in Translation - one of Bill Murray's rare ventures into 'serious' acting and Scarlett Johansson's introduction to the Hollywood heavenlies (which wasn't hurt by a 30-second indulgent glimpse of her ample behind right at the film's front) - was trying to get at.

Sure one could say, 'Tokyo', but the city was everywhere yet (because of that?) nowhere. So Tokyo is a land which drives Americans crazy, a fantasy-arena where life's details and granularity is hopelessly mixed up in triviality, obsessive formality and technological excess, where empty temples co-exist with crowded strip-joints; who cares? One can't help but feel that Japan the nation was merely the medium for a vague pseudo-message not easily deciphered.

Or, was the show merely about a middle-aged man, Bob, struggling through a week of life in Tokyo and who happened to befriend a philosophy-grad, Charlotte, accompanying her husband on a business trip which leaves her feeling imprisoned in a Tokyo-imposed cage of meaningless activity? Yes, except there is no message here, no moral, no plot, no 'solution', no - one could say - point to the two hours of what seems like two people trying to do nothing but cheer each other up. And they do so via parties, with (cheap) philosophy, through one- and two-liners and, most significantly IMO, by staring at each other.

Maybe these were the themes director Sofia Coppola was trying to get at. Staring and quietitude striving to transcend the superficial pauses of an urban chaos which ploughs on and on. Stillness and deliberate thoughtfulness when noise and buzz dominate and when life at home inflicts pain and relational dead-ends (both Bob and Charlotte never seem to end their overseas phone calls happy).

Maybe the whole movie was motion-streaming a strange friendship just to see where things led to on their own. Maybe Coppola didn't know where she wanted the movie to head, and she was waiting for Bob and Charlotte to give her the answer i.e. there was no 'director', the script was 'writing itself'. Regardless, Lost in Translation often felt like it's title, so movie-goers raised clear story progression, be warned.

There are many other questions one may ask although, again, I'm curious if we were meant to ask them. Were Bob and Charlotte falling in love? If so, what exactly was preventing all-out romance, apart from marital fidelity? If not, then was the movie exploring the boundaries of Platonic affection between people who, for all intents and purposes, seemed drawn to each other (and if so, what's the conclusion?)? And why did Bob 'give in' so easily to a total stranger (so much for fidelity) and how did this figure into the movie (since not much was said about it)? What about Charlotte's long silent peerings into temples and gardens? Did those mean something?

Perhaps, in the final(?) analysis, Lost in Translation is about friendship - pure but not simple. It's about how friends are made, how a relationship progresses through desire (both sexual and otherwise), how likings and loves adapt, and, ultimately, how we acknowledge the end of a cherished stage (although I'm willing to bet there is no fixed meaning of the final farewell scene; it truly is anybody's guess what the point was, if there was even one).

We've all lived through difficult (but relatively short) phases in life which were redeemed on account of an individual whose presence made the occasion mean something, whose words and companionship redefined the experience from one of repulsion to one of warmth and rightness. Perhaps Coppola meant to depict such quiet relational miracles, the metamorphosis of two 'wrongs' (Bob and Charlotte being in Tokyo) into one 'right' (a week-long mutually supportive memory).

Lost in Translation
, ironically, may really be a movie about being found - at least for a while.

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