I didn’t love this movie, not 10 hours ago. This morning, I vaguely remembered LOST IN TRANSLATION, and what I did recall I didn’t recall warmly. I thought it was plodding, pretentious, and unfunny but it was all based off of a memory left behind from another time. I was 22 or 23 years old the last time I saw the movie, younger, less literate, and certainly less patient. I’m a few days away from 30 now, and because I was bored and in the mood for something with Bill Murray in it, I decided to put that memory and that first snap judgement to the test.
Those things failed.
LOST IN TRANSLATION is a gentle snapshot of something that rarely gets a chance to be seen anymore: romance without a physical payoff, or at least, without a fixation on those splendid things that don’t always have to exist to find and establish a connection. That connection between Murray and Scarlett Johansson’s characters in the film, is of course the heart of the thing. They’re two opposites in their construction, and yet somehow they’re able to find a sameness due to their circumstances — two Americans lampooned on a neon light covered island, unable to speak the language or find their footing.
How they find each other and how they navigate this unique relationship — this wonderful distraction that has these two characters clinging to each other without really pulling back the curtains on their off-to-the-side problems is all the fun of watching this film, so I don’t want to dedicate piles of sentences to deconstructing that relationship.
What I will say though, is that LOST IN TRANSLATION says more through silence, whispers, and un-connected moments of conversational intimacy than most other films do with all of the words, direct actions, and unearned intimacy that always lays at their disposal. Subtlety and charm and desperation are the keys here, along with a hunger for a diversion and something new and more and also less.
As J. Hoberman said in his review of the film, it “evokes the emotional intensity of a one-night stand far from home”, but it also allows itself to settle for that. There is no discussion of a future rendezvous, no last minute push to consummate or fill the sad air with the sounds of one last romantic fling. Realism comes into play at the end — this is a star crossed love or friendship or both and something that would likely wilt in the full sun. We see this, they see this, and so we walk away thinking that they might deserve more fun filled lost days together, but that sometimes a small memory is a treasure unto itself.
The above is why I (now) love this movie, but I also thought it wise to look at why I, likely, didn’t back when I first saw it. As I said, I was 22 or 23, and at the time, I know I didn’t relate to it, or any of the themes about the challenges of a young relationship, and I didn’t relate to feeling alone or listless. This is not to say that no one at that age or younger wouldn’t relate, or that one must always relate to a film to appreciate it, but in this instance, I would have to assume that that was a key reason why I personally didn’t understand LOST IN TRANSLATION.
I should say though, that I don’t completely relate to those themes now either, though when I was 22 I was submerged in that kind of fresh love that feels like an endless splendor, a love that feels bulletproof and effortless. Some may say that feeling never wanes, but I’ll be candid and say that longevity takes maintenance, and that Murray’s Bob Harris is right when he tells Johansson’s Charlotte that marriage is hard.
Back when I was 22, I would have never believed it, and at 30, I’d never want it any other way because of the poetry of contrast, and how the bad and that broken dream of a bulletproof love enriches the good and seeds the soil for a new dream and a stronger love, but sometimes other interests like work, and friends, and the like, seduce and steal away time that could be better spent with each other. I’ll be candid again and say that loneliness comes when distance is at play and when the sacrifices that are required to live a secure life are due, so I comprehend now (and I think we all do at times in our adult lives), what these characters feel at times, albeit not to the degree that they do, and it makes me appreciate this film in a way that I, personally, could not previously.
What that says about me as a viewer and a critic is what that says about me, but I’m eager to re-explore other things that I pushed aside when I was the possessor of a less mature palette and I’m hopeful that I will find new levels to explore and appreciate. So a simple lesson is learned from this, and a small bit of advice is warranted: remain open minded and never allow your past self to bully you around.
LOST IN TRANSLATION is available on Netflix Instant right now.