Review: Lost in Translation

Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson play two people lost

Lost in Translation is so well written and acted, thoughtful, genuine, touching and incredibly romantic that any negative review I see must stem from the audience simply not understanding this movie.

Of course if you want some rom-com, bang-wang predictable romance formula, this won’t be the movie for you. In fact, people sometimes complain that this movie is too slow and not really about anything. But that couldn’t be further from the truth as the beauty of this piece lies in the subtleties of the performances and the portrayal of the characters. It isn’t about walking you through some formula that then reaches its inevitable conclusion.

Bill Murray has outdone himself in terms of acting ability. He is superb in his role as the apathetic, bored, middle-aged movie star stuck in the artificial confines of some luxury hotel in Tokyo to do a whiskey commercial. He is always in character and he never, ever becomes Bill Murray for even just one second, resulting in a believable and powerful performance. This part was written for him and I doubt any other actor could have pulled off what he did.

Scarlett Johansson has an innocence to her that is only complemented by her intelligence and the serenity she exhumes. Murray and Johansson have great chemistry, despite the almost thirty five years age difference between them.

Scarlett Johansson as Charlotte and Bill Murray as Bob Harris

Murray plays Bob Harris. He’s married and has children, but he feels stuck and tired. He is in Japan to do a commercial for money but his heart is not in it and he’s lost his drive and seems mostly on autopilot when going about his business. His marriage is stagnant and his wife keeps sending him tile and wall-paper patterns to chose from but other than that doesn’t really talk to him or otherwise shows any interest in him as a person. She just says what needs to be said and moves along.

Charlotte (played by Johansson) is a Yale philosophy graduate in town with her not particularly bright celebrity photographer husband John to whom she has been married for two years and who doesn’t give her the time of day. She reflects on how her husband has changed during two years of marriage and how her own life lacks direction. Her husband, in fact, seems to have more in common with a light-headed starlet (Anna Faris) they meet in the hotel, than with his own wife. He even tells her that she needs to relax because “not everyone went to Yale.” He then leaves her behind in the hotel while he is off for his assignment.

“Had we but world enough, and time…”

People got this movie all wrong believing it to be about the friendship between two lonely people or that it is about traveling to far off lands and being homesick.

Lost in Translation is a love story. However, that is really beside the point because the beauty of this movie lies in how this love story is told. The protagonists don’t do the obvious things expected in such movies like sleep with each other (even though they could) or otherwise have a steamy affair that ends with separation and tears. That would have been cheap and predictable.

This movie is about two people who find themselves in the same place and time with contrasting perspectives. Each is afflicted by different yet parallel doubts about the course their respective lives have taken.  These two people are drawn to each other and able to be completely honest and unguarded with the other because they are strangers without any messy attachment from the past. Theirs is the kind of honesty one can only have with complete strangers.

Their loneliness is compounded by the noisy, chaotic, neon-filled Tokyo background which – despite crowds – is a very isolating and lonely place really.

Words are not necessary

I loved this movie because it threw two unlikely people together and forged an unexpected, intense relationship. It is a story that is mostly about the things that aren’t said and done, than about what is explicitly uttered. The ending is powerful because it is completely unexpected. And when he whispers something in her ear on the congested streets of Tokyo, we don’t get to hear what it is nor do we ever find out. The effect is a finale that remains true to the film’s elegance, subtlety and depth.

As someone once said, maybe he gave her his phone number, or said he loved her. Or said she was a good person. Or thanked her. Or whispered, “Had we but world enough, and time…” and left her to look up the rest of it.

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