Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation is a

film about loneliness, featuring two individuals drawn to each other partly

by the pull of genuine attraction but mainly by the push of having no other

respite from their loneliness. Sofia Coppola, who wrote and directed, tries

as hard as possible to maximise the isolation of her two central characters:

she holes them up in a featureless luxury hotel in Tokyo; disorients and alienates

them with jetlag and the screaming, flashing, neon world outside; confuses them

with incomprehensible Japanese culture, and annoys them with dreadful fellow

westerners in the hotel.

Most devastatingly, however, Coppola gives both of them wedding rings, and

sees to it that their loneliness comes not despite their married status, but

because of it.

Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is a young bride with rather too much time on

her hands, married to a successful photographer (Giovanni Ribisi) who is so

busy that at first he doesn’t pick up on her despair. Later, he simply disappears

altogether to a photoshoot elsewhere in the country, leaving his wife alone

in the Park Hyatt Tokyo. Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is a film star with a wife

back home who’s far to preoccupied with interior decoration and school runs

to be able to lend him a sympathetic ear. While she’s better than he is at methods

of communication – she’s a master of the fax and the FedEx package –

she’s miles away, both physically and emotionally, from hearing his desperate

cries.

The hotel itself is a main character in the film, providing comforts and annoyances

in equal measure, and it’s not clear which is more alienating. The self-propelled

curtains and whirring fax machines are bad, and the elliptical trainer with

a mind of its own is worse, but the double glazing and enormous bathtubs have

a much more deadening effect on anybody who – like the protagonists in

this film – is doing little more than hanging around the hotel killing

time.

Bob is an American film star who has travelled to Japan in order to pick up

an easy $2 million for endorsing Suntory whiskey. He hates himself for selling

out, he’s repulsed by the Suntory people he has to deal with, he’s being forced

to stay an extra couple of nights in the hotel so that he can go on a dreadful

Japanese talk show, he can’t sleep, he can’t have any kind of conversation with

his wife; hell, he can’t even go for a swim in the hotel’s pool without having

to watch some ridiculous aquasthenics class. It’s got to the point where the

annoyances are even self-inflicted: he’s set his cellphone to the most annoying

conceivable ring, maybe on the grounds that feeling angry is better than feeling

nothing at all.

Murray’s performance is about as good as screen acting gets. His face is one

of the most versatile instruments in Hollywood: most of the time, in this film,

there’s really no need for him to talk at all. Here is a man who can turn a

bland advertising slogan into an angry and yet hilarious denouncement of what

he has become, filled to bursting with sarcasm and loathing, just by using his

eyes. Johansson can’t compete, but luckily Coppola doesn’t ask her to: the role

of Charlotte is a lot softer, and the 18-year-old actress does an excellent

job in presenting Murray with a yin to his yang.

It takes a long time for Bob and Charlotte to befriend each other. Both have

found a certain measure of miserable solace in their solitude: Bob sits drinking

whiskey at the hotel bar, while Charlotte, a Yale philosophy graduate, has been

reduced to listening to cheesy cod-philosophical spiritual self-help CDs through

world-excluding headphones. When she stumbles across some kind of shinto ceremony,

she’s reduced to tears by the fact that she feels nothing at all.

But because they have nothing to do and no one else to turn to, Bob and Charlotte

end up spending a lot of time together, especially those long sleepless nights

in a strange and foreign land. Tokyo, here, is a noisy, colourful, exotic place,

somewhere it’s nice to be able to have a fellow westerner with whom to escape

from your Japanese friends with a predilection for lap dancers or the vapid

Hollywood actress singing in the hotel bar. The city is shot, by Lance Acord,

with an intensity not seen since The Pillow Book – but here,

unlike in the Greenaway film, there’s chaotic real life, running in the streets,

crazy Japanese youth.

In the midst of all this, something starts to bloom between our protagonists

– something precious, fragile and beautifully doomed, like a cherry blossom.

Thrust together by circumstance, the friendship moves inexorably in the direction

of romance, the very artificiality of the situation intensifying desire while

denying any possibility of a real-world relationship. If you could love someone

deeply, just for one night, without even having sex, would you? And how would

you feel in the morning, when you had to end something which in many ways never

even existed in the first place?

Seeing this very state of affairs approaching, might you get drunk and have

meaningless sex with someone else? While it was happening, would you say that

you never wanted to leave the hotel, the last place on earth you would ever

want to be? Watching it receding, would you go for a walk in the city of your

fugue-like adventure, tears forming in your eyes? Going back to your wife and

children, would you feel impossibly torn between your family and your only hope

for happiness?

These beautiful, painful episodes are expertly interspersed by Coppola with

hilariously funny set-pieces involving Murray at the height of his comedic abilities.

The masseuse, the commercial director, the hotel gym: ask anybody who’s seen

the film about these scenes and they’ll start smiling, if not laughing out loud,

just by remembering them.

But the scene which sticks the longest in the mind is the one where Bob watches

Charlotte get into the elevator as he’s leaving the hotel. Last year, Malcom

Gladwell wrote a piece

for the New Yorker about facial expressions, explaining that some, such as the

one known as action unit

1, can generally only be formed involuntarily. We raise our inner eyebrows

all the time, without thinking, when we are unhappy, but only a handful of people

can do it deliberately. Woody Allen is one; Bill Murray is another. Allen uses

his frontalis, pars medialis to make us laugh; here, Murray uses his to break

our hearts. On screen, shot with an unflinching camera, is a picture of emotional

paralysis to pierce the soul. It’s probably too subtle and art-house a film

to garner Murray an Oscar, but there’s no doubt he deserves it.

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77 Responses to Lost in Translation

  1. Alex says:

    Wow! I never liked Bill Murray before and now I think he’s god! What a fantastic film. Have spent too many nights bored, jet-lagged and sleepless in hotels not to realise that this is the most brilliantly insightful piece of film-making. A beautiful and unusual love story. I loved it and it will stay with me forever!

    Alex

  2. Alexandra says:

    I’m still waiting for a reply. Please.

  3. Justin says:

    I have read much on what the relationship between Charlotte and Bob means. But let me add my own two-penneth.

    I am fast approaching the business end of life, ie ex, with my daughter, girlfriend that will never be in touch with who I am….but what’s missing! Whats the missing ‘X’ factor, the piece of the jigsaw we all crave???? Let me tell you…it’s the piece we’ll never truly discover, describe or find. I’m talking about the longing for the answer to our very existence. Find it, and we cease to have purpose.

    Bob has reached the total emptiness point of his life. He has everything, but has absolutely nothing! The introduction to his life of Charlotte has suddenly given him a taste of what might have been, but is completely unobtainable.

  4. WWTB says:

    It seems like no one here has had a extramarital relationship and then gone back to your spouse. I have. And I am so happy to be with my husband, who’s a lot like John, and I miss and love the person in my life who was a lot like Bob. Its not always about running away with your lover. Sometimes its way way way more complicated than that. I’ve had that passionate goodbye kiss and been told to patch things up at home, all in the same day. Its about so much more than your typical hollywood ending. The people here who have said that you’re not supposed to know what he whispers are the most true to the heart of the film, I think. Its about connecting and being changed, not about exact instructions or anything like that.

  5. risto says:

    Does anyone know what is that first song that Scarlet is singing in the Karaoke bar?

    I remember there were words like…”you’re so special, I’m so special…” or smth like that.

    tnx

  6. Daniel says:

    FYI – Song sung by Scarlet/Charlotte is “Brass in Pocket” by the Pretenders.

  7. risto says:

    tnx a lot!

    original doesn’t sound that good at all :(

    I mean Charlotte sings it with such a passion, high pitched voice…

  8. Chris says:

    LiT is excellent as long as you haven’t seen Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love, the movie from which most of LiT was taken. Sofia Coppola has admitted being “influenced” by it–but the themes and some of the shots were taken (with much less skill) directly from the Wong Kar Wai movie.

  9. Missingno says:

    ******HUUUUUGEEEE SPOILER!!!!*******

    ** DO NOT READ IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW WHAT WAS SAID IN THE ENDING **

    I’ve done a little sound engineering in my time, and I’ve quite clearly worked out what was said in the last scene. Honestly, I’d rather I didn’t find out, the movie was amazing and having that bit left to the imagination is pure genius. However, for those to eager to know, I will share. In the last scene, Bob says to Charlotte:

    “I love you, and everything you did. Go back there and tell him to try, OK?”.

    Check out the enhanced Audio and see for yourself:

    http://img267.imageshack.us/my.php?image=lostintranslationendingdn2.swf

  10. DJ says:

    It is quite obvious given the correct audio settings what Billy Murray whispers at the end of the film. It is as follows:

    “I’ll always remember the past few days with you. Don’t part mad… Tell him the truth, okay?”

    That is the correct answer. However, that simple peice of dialouge, especially given the complex context, is as ambigious as not even knowing what he says. Don’t try to find a definitive answer, because you won’t. Just enjoy the masterpiece that Sofia Coppola has created. :)

  11. Vid22dotcom says:

    If your REALLY want to know what was said…simply go to youtube and search for – lost in translation whisper –

    You can hear it for yourself.

  12. John says:

    Bob doesn’t say “don’t part mad;” he says “on the flight back.” It’s not just my ears telling me this, it’s an understanding of Bob’s character. Bob really is having a mid-life crisis. He’s in Japan shooting a commercial when he’d rather be doing a play somewhere. The obligations and responsibilities of being a husband and father keep him from doing what he loves most. He’s been married for twenty-five years, the youthful passion is long gone from the marriage, and Bob feels lost because he doesn’t know what he’s pursuing anymore. But seeing Charlotte struggle with her marriage reminds him that by nature, marriage is a struggle. He understands that just because you have difficulties doesn’t mean you throw the marriage away. He would never tell Charlotte, “don’t part mad,” because he would never let Charlotte throw away her marriage like that. He’s giving her advice to help her marriage, not to help it end well. And by giving her advice to help her marriage, he’s also telling her, “Don’t throw away your marriage. It’s worth hanging onto.” This isn’t a movie about realizing that your marriage isn’t going well and that you’re not happy. It’s a movie about realizing that marriage is hard, that being married can’t keep you from being unhappy sometimes and lonely sometimes and lost sometimes, but that ultimately, it’s worth it.

  13. McAlister Merchant says:

    I just watched this heart-warming/breaking story again for about the umpteenth time, and again loved it. I think he said “… (something)… tell the truth.”

    Of course, the way the movie is designed, we prolly all find what best serves our experience of the movie – which is a very Japanese (Rashomon) thing :-) isn’t it.

  14. martin says:

    i swear that he just says “i have to be leaving.. but i wont let that come between us, okay?”. listen to it verry carefully and watch it and think about what i said it sounds like.

  15. martin says:

    i swear that he just says “i have to be leaving.. but i wont let that come between us, okay?”. listen to it verry carefully and watch it and think about what i said it sounds like.

  16. shekhar says:

    All I can say is I have fallen in love with Charlotte’s character.

  17. ev says:

    Never seen a thread go on this long – a testiment to what a treasure this movie is. Bill Murray has always been superman. BTW – his character in this film would never presume to give her marital advice. Whatever he said – concerned her and him alone. So I believe “the truth” above.

  18. Michael says:

    I think Coppola’s movie is far too intelligent for standard cinema. I read people collapsing on her failure to make the movie believable and cohesive. The truth is it shows they just didn’t get it. To me the movie isn’t as much about 2 people as it is these 2 people’s isolation. Murray plays this perfectly, much as he has done in Gorundhog Day and Scroged. He is dry, yet forgiving. With a dull and non-responsive demeanor.

    At its very core, its a visualization of the feeling of isolation. I have felt this and thus it was easy to relate and to emote back to what I see.

    Its a gentle and immersive picture. Full of small moments, yet never trivial.

    I love it.

  19. Kourian says:

    It is not a film about loneliness you snowed in poop. Never lived outside your country town, what? In another country. It is a film about alienation, about culture shock. That might be similar but it’s not. To experience it you’d of course have to immerse yourself in another culture (or two or three) and something tells me that in your case that’s never ever going to have a chance to happen.

    Moshi moshi.

  20. Lee says:

    I love this film, the pure relationship, friendship and love that develops between Bob and Charlotte. I feel in love with Japan because of this movie, this will be my third trip there in 3 years. I have been trying to figure out what Bob says to Charlotte for years. Maybe some of the comments made are right but i would like to think the following.

    I have spent the the last 10 years doing solo travels around the world, and when my life feels like crap, I kiss my kids and partner I pack my bags and jump on a plane and take of a month. We spend our life’s seaching, trying to find ourselves along the way, hoping to be seen, for someone to touch our soul. On one hell trip with by brother I know I had my Lost in Translation moment on a 12 hour plane trip I seat next to a older man. I think that it was a time in both our life’s when we where both lost and trying to find or saying good-bye to something. For me it was trying to find myself and for him it was saying good-bye to his past and his life. Because he was dying from cancer and was very sick. We talked about life, love death and everything in between. That moment would change me for ever, it was not about going home packing my bags and running away with this man. It was about touching each another in a way that can’t be put into words. We stayed in contact emailed, phoned, talked to each others partners, but was ever to see each other again. He died a couple of years later.

    I would like to think that Bob whispers the words to one of the songs in the movie to Charlotte ” More than this there is nothing, more than this there is nothing”. For a moment can change everything.

    Lee

  21. Lee says:

    I love this film, the pure relationship, friendship and love that develops between Bob and Charlotte. I feel in love with Japan because of this movie, this will be my third trip there in 3 years. I have been trying to figure out what Bob says to Charlotte for years. Maybe some of the comments made are right but i would like to think the following.

    I have spent the the last 10 years doing solo travels around the world, and when my life feels like crap, I kiss my kids and partner I pack my bags and jump on a plane and take of a month. We spend our life’s seaching, trying to find ourselves along the way, hoping to be seen, for someone to touch our soul. On one hell trip with by brother I know I had my Lost in Translation moment on a 12 hour plane trip I seat next to a older man. I think that it was a time in both our life’s when we where both lost and trying to find or saying good-bye to something. For me it was trying to find myself and for him it was saying good-bye to his past and his life. Because he was dying from cancer and was very sick. We talked about life, love death and everything in between. That moment would change me for ever, it was not about going home packing my bags and running away with this man. It was about touching each another in a way that can’t be put into words. We stayed in contact emailed, phoned, talked to each others partners, but was ever to see each other again. He died a couple of years later.

    I would like to think that Bob whispers the words to one of the songs in the movie to Charlotte ” More than this there is nothing, more than this there is nothing”. For a moment can change everything.

    Lee

  22. Lee says:

    I love this film, the pure relationship, friendship and love that develops between Bob and Charlotte. I feel in love with Japan because of this movie, this will be my third trip there in 3 years. I have been trying to figure out what Bob says to Charlotte for years. Maybe some of the comments made are right but i would like to think the following.

    I have spent the the last 10 years doing solo travels around the world, and when my life feels like crap, I kiss my kids and partner I pack my bags and jump on a plane and take of a month. We spend our life’s seaching, trying to find ourselves along the way, hoping to be seen, for someone to touch our soul. On one hell trip with by brother I know I had my Lost in Translation moment on a 12 hour plane trip I seat next to a older man. I think that it was a time in both our life’s when we where both lost and trying to find or saying good-bye to something. For me it was trying to find myself and for him it was saying good-bye to his past and his life. Because he was dying from cancer and was very sick. We talked about life, love death and everything in between. That moment would change me for ever, it was not about going home packing my bags and running away with this man. It was about touching each another in a way that can’t be put into words. We stayed in contact emailed, phoned, talked to each others partners, but was ever to see each other again. He died a couple of years later.

    I would like to think that Bob whispers the words to one of the songs in the movie to Charlotte ” More than this there is nothing, more than this there is nothing”. For a moment can change everything.

    Lee

  23. Lee says:

    I love this film, the pure relationship, friendship and love that develops between Bob and Charlotte. I feel in love with Japan because of this movie, this will be my third trip there in 3 years. I have been trying to figure out what Bob says to Charlotte for years. Maybe some of the comments made are right but i would like to think the following.

    I have spent the the last 10 years doing solo travels around the world, and when my life feels like crap, I kiss my kids and partner I pack my bags and jump on a plane and take of a month. We spend our life’s seaching, trying to find ourselves along the way, hoping to be seen, for someone to touch our soul. On one hell trip with by brother I know I had my Lost in Translation moment on a 12 hour plane trip I seat next to a older man. I think that it was a time in both our life’s when we where both lost and trying to find or saying good-bye to something. For me it was trying to find myself and for him it was saying good-bye to his past and his life. Because he was dying from cancer and was very sick. We talked about life, love death and everything in between. That moment would change me for ever, it was not about going home packing my bags and running away with this man. It was about touching each another in a way that can’t be put into words. We stayed in contact emailed, phoned, talked to each others partners, but was ever to see each other again. He died a couple of years later.

    I would like to think that Bob whispers the words to one of the songs in the movie to Charlotte ” More than this there is nothing, more than this there is nothing”. For a moment can change everything.

    Lee

  24. Lee says:

    I love this film, the pure relationship, friendship and love that develops between Bob and Charlotte. I feel in love with Japan because of this movie, this will be my third trip there in 3 years. I have been trying to figure out what Bob says to Charlotte for years. Maybe some of the comments made are right but i would like to think the following.

    I have spent the the last 10 years doing solo travels around the world, and when my life feels like crap, I kiss my kids and partner I pack my bags and jump on a plane and take of a month. We spend our life’s seaching, trying to find ourselves along the way, hoping to be seen, for someone to touch our soul. On one hell trip with by brother I know I had my Lost in Translation moment on a 12 hour plane trip I seat next to a older man. I think that it was a time in both our life’s when we where both lost and trying to find or saying good-bye to something. For me it was trying to find myself and for him it was saying good-bye to his past and his life. Because he was dying from cancer and was very sick. We talked about life, love death and everything in between. That moment would change me for ever, it was not about going home packing my bags and running away with this man. It was about touching each another in a way that can’t be put into words. We stayed in contact emailed, phoned, talked to each others partners, but was ever to see each other again. He died a couple of years later.

    I would like to think that Bob whispers the words to one of the songs in the movie to Charlotte ” More than this there is nothing, more than this there is nothing”. For a moment can change everything.

    Lee

  25. Lost says:

    The last words… “I have to be leaving, but I won’t let that come between us. OK?”

  26. Rena says:

    Oh, Kourian, this movie is OF COURSE about loneliness. If it were merely about culture shock and alienation, the characters wouldn’t be trapped in unhappy marriages. It’s that unhappiness that isolates them so profoundly.

    I can’t pretend to know what Bob whispers, but I’ve read some terrific suggestions here. I have to think, after years of viewings, that it must be something about them, because he looks terrified — excited, but terrified — when he gets back into the car and leaves.

    Such a great film, so deserving of the praise it’s received.

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