It rolled around to my turn again, and I wanted to show a couple of films that I think got a bit shafted in the Best Picture category in the 2000s. (And yes, the fact that I could actually now show next week’s film because we now have a Blu-Ray adapter was a factor in this decision.) I started with 2003’s Lost In Translation, the second film from Sofia Coppola, who is a much better director than an actress. Lost In Translation, of course, had the misfortune to be released in the same year that Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy finished up with Return of the King. Let’s face it, from the moment that the Academy decided not to give Fellowship of the Ring the Oscar for Best Picture (to be honest, it turned out to be the best film of the three), it was pretty much obvious that the statuette was made and engraved and waiting in storage for the trilogy to finish. Lost In Translation had no chance, but in any other year, I think it wins.
Of course, before the film I showed the only short I could think of about “translation” – the Monty Python Hungarian Phrasebook skit:
Lost In Translation may be a bit tough to write up, certainly in an expanded way. It’s a very simple story.
Bob Harris is a fading American actor who is in Tokyo to get a $2M check for endorsing Suntory whiskey (“I could be doing a play somewhere” he laments).
Charlotte is a recent college graduate, as of yet unemployed and unsure what she wants to be doing with her life. She has tagged along to Tokyo with her husband, an entertainment photographer, who is busy with his shoots and eventually takes off for a multiple-day gig on location, leaving Charlotte behind.
Both of our two stars are lost in their own way, Bob facing the end of his career and a 25-year-old marriage to a woman that is in some ways suffocating him, Charlotte trying to find herself and and unsatisfied in her young marriage. They find themselves in a city alien to them – they don’t speak the language or know the customs – they are both suffering from jet lag and an inability to sleep at night, they are both alone…and they gradually meet and begin to share in adventures about Tokyo as Charlotte’s husband is away.
They have a growing relationship – never sexual, though Bob does have a one-night stand with a lounge singer who may in some ways be standing in for Charlotte – and one of the movie’s great strengths is portraying this process. It’s believable, it’s tender, and it’s tinged with a good dose of natural humor.
Finally, it’s time for Bob to go home. He and Charlotte have an unsatisfying farewell as he is surrounded by the entourage of assistants from Suntory seeing him off. But as the taxi taking him to the airport is caught in traffic, he sees a blonde head walking through the crowd and he leaps out of the cab. It is indeed Charlotte (though the scene is filmed in such a way that until he catches her you’re not convinced it won’t be a stranger) and they get one more chance to say goodbye. In what turns out to be the best moment of the movie, they embrace and Bob whispers something in her ear. We can’t hear what it is, and even the closed captioning reads “Whispering, Indistinct”. The moment was not exactly scripted, so even Coppola doesn’t know what Bob says. There are numerous pages on the internet devoted to trying to determine what Bob says, while Murray for his part declines to elaborate. We may never know what he said.
But it doesn’t matter. It’s a perfect, ambiguous moment. And after you see it, you realize that this moment is precisely what the previous 90 minutes have led up to. After the part again, Bob returns to the waiting taxi and tells the driver, “All right.” And we believe he is.