Friday, July 27, 2007

Going into the vault with Lost in Translation

You’ve come down off the Harry Potter reading rush. You saw The Simpsons movie at the midnight show Thursday night, and there’s only so much Comic-Con coverage you can watch on G4 before you start to get a little freaked out. So why not invest in a pint or two of Ben and Jerry’s, put on that comfortable Sunnydale High t-shirt you can’t quite bring yourself to wear outdoors anymore, and take a few hours to watch a semi-depressing movie? You know you want to...

I suggest Lost in Translation. Now, I know this is a polarizing movie. You either love it or you hate it and think that the ending is reason enough for Sofia Coppola to be crushed with small stones in the town square. Me, I saw it five times in the theater and have probably watched it another dozen times on DVD and it gets me every time. Of course, my other favorite movies is Jaws, so I might just be messed up. But honestly, to me, this is one of the most emotionally true love stories ever filmed. It's not filled with flowers and romance and fluffy bunny love -- it's filled with the real stuff: the confusion, the tension, the loneliness, and the luck you feel when you find someone who understands you, even a little.

For those unfamiliar with the plot, well, there isn't one really. You've got Bill Murray as Bob, a fading film star whose marriage is falling apart and who's finding it difficult to sell out and shoot a whiskey commercial, and you've got Scarlett Johansson as Charlotte, a lonely young woman who's trying to figure out why she married her photographer husband. The two meet in a Tokyo hotel and spend a week together in the city doing nothing of real importance except maybe falling in love or maybe just becoming good friends or maybe just symbolizing life’s big, sad “what might have beens.”

Murray is brilliant – there’s little dialogue in the movie, but it doesn’t matter because he completely inhabits his character, doing all of his acting with his body and with his eyes. For a comedian who built his life’s work on telling jokes, that’s damn impressive. And it's a crime against cinema that he got robbed of an Oscar for this role. I put that snub right up against the whole Saving Private Ryan/Shakespeare in Love debacle of 1998.

While Johansson is not quite up to Murray’s stellar level, she's wonderfully natural and it's not difficult to feel her character's confusion and loneliness. She's young and innocent but seems to know that life is always going to have its share of angst. At one point, she asks Bob, "Does it get easier?" and you can hear an equal measure of hope and resignation in her voice as she says it. It's a lovely moment. And when he tells her, truthfully, "Yes...and no," you can understand why these two characters connect so deeply.

I mentioned earlier that there's no real, conventional plot in this film. There's no rising and falling action, no building of tension, no easy resolution. And there are only brief flashes of traditional exposition. That's one of the things I like best about it. It reminds me of a very intimate home movie. The realism of each moment is so true and delicate it makes you feel like you're in the room with these people. It’s unsettling and compelling at the same time. That mood is helped enormously by a smooth, ethereal soundtrack from My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields.

All of which bring us to that controversial ending. To me, it's perfect. Yet I know that right now, my husband is giving the computer screen the finger because he hated the ending with a fiery, steel-melting passion. For those who haven't seen the movie yet, I won't ruin the ending. I'll just say that I think it took guts to risk a resolution like that. It all goes back to what I said about being in the room with these characters. Those last few moments stay completely true to that conceit. It's brilliant.

Alrighty, now go have some ice cream and stoke that melancholy. It’s good for you!

6 comments:

Shan said...

For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.

agent57 said...

I liked Scarlett Johansson in this movie... I was kind of sad to realize that she bored me in just about everything else I've seen her in.

Liz said...

Yeah, I really liked her in this too, but she hasn't really impressed me in anything else.

Bakerloo said...

Agreed. Lost in Translation is one of my absolute favorite movies.

My favorite scene- the most perfect scene - is when they are at the karaoke party, sitting in the hall. She puts her head on his shoulder and he almost touches her, but decides not to. BEAUTIFUL.

Liz said...

Yes, that's a wonderful moment. The movie is just filled with small, almost imperceptible gems like that. One that always gets me is toward the end when he's just said goodbye to her and the other guests want to get their pictures taken with him. He's half smiling and half crying and it's just so perfect.

Indie Mama said...

love this movie! i loved 'virgin suicides' too, haven't watched 'marie antoinette' though.