“Lost in Translation” (2003) | Focus Features
Some of my favourite creatives and cinephiles share a favourite movie experience:
the film that left a mark on them, that changed them, that influenced them
personally, creatively or both.
Film: Lost in Translation (2003)
Written & Directed by Sofia Coppola
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray and Giovanni Ribisi
Words by: Heidi Wellington
Watching Lost in Translation has always been comforting. There is something soothing about Sofia Coppola’s story of two lost souls in a foreign land, meeting as strangers and parting as friends. It has always tempted my curiosity for travelling alone and stepping outside my comfort zone in a far-off place. It is a film I turn to whenever I want to return to that feeling.
The friendship formed between the two lost souls, Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) and Bob (Bill Murray) is serendipitous, they are both searching for some kind of change in their lives but are not sure what that is. Both seem disappointed, even depressed with where they’re at, as if standing on the edge of a cliff and yet unable to jump.
Charlotte is a young American college graduate, travelling with her work-obsessed photographer husband John (Giovanni Ribisi), also an American. Charlotte and Bob, both struggling with insomnia, meet one night in the bar of the hotel they are both staying in. Bob too is American, a successful actor and is much older than Charlotte. He is in Tokyo to film a lucrative advertising commercial for Suntory Whiskey.
Lost in Translation is what I like to describe as “a quiet movie”. Coppola included scenes with no musical score, just the sounds of the scene, and we linger with Charlotte or Bob as if we are voyeurs, creating a deep sense of intimacy. Each time I watch it, I am left wanting more from my own life, and it leaves me with a sense of wanderlust. The film conveys a sense of reality, with both the acting and the writing, maybe because it doesn’t follow the lines of a typical story arc. This originality struck a chord with critics which led to Coppola’s Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay (she was also nominated for Best Director).
People don’t often “get” this movie (in my experience), they say “there’s no point to it, nothing happens”. It’s true, it’s subtle and uncomplicated, even though sometimes we’re not really sure what’s going on in a scene because of the language barrier since Coppola has chosen not to use subtitles. The actors convey their frustration so well that we feel it too. Bob speaks no Japanese and his experience with both the Japanese director and the inept translator when he is filming the Suntory Whiskey commercial is perfect, it conveys everybody’s confusion with the language barrier and because there are no subtitles, we too wonder what was left unsaid by the translator. It’s awkward, but incredibly funny.
Charlotte is beautifully played by Scarlett Johansson. Her husky voice, her softness and vulnerable youth as she braves the Tokyo subway, exploring the city and finding her way to a temple, observing the locals living their day-to-day lives.
The soundtrack is typical Sofia Coppola, each song has been thoughtfully chosen and they remain with you long after the movie ends. In the final scene, Bob hugs Charlotte and whispers something to her before they part. We are not privy to the words he speaks, we are not meant to hear what is said. They part and go their separate ways. Are they changed from their brief Tokyo friendship? I think so, although we’ll never know what Bob whispered to Charlotte but whatever he said, I think it gave her hope.
Heidi Wellington is a mother, wife, yoga teacher and writer.
She is a coffee and chocolate lover, she likes reading memoirs and is a film enthusiast,
with an interest in Old Hollywood history. Her biggest goal in life is to travel often to
far-off places. At the moment, Heidi is working on a memoir of her year-long yoga
teacher training experience. She lives on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia,
with her husband and two teenage daughters. You can subscribe to Heidi’s newsletter,
When the Schnecken Beckons, here, and you can find her on Instagram here.