Lost in Translation (2003) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
When I was doing market analyses and feasibility
studies for Shell and Mobil, I got into a familiar mode of reaction
to exotic ports of call in my final years in that job. I'd spend
evenings in my hotel room looking out over massive cities, feeling
alone, although surrounded by millions of people. I'd see the lights
and hear the noises and realize that people were out there having
fun and living their lives, but if I got outside the hotel, I
wouldn't know where to look for the entertainment, and if I found it, I wouldn't find it very entertaining after all.
So I did my thing during the day, studied traffic patterns and consumption statistics, interviewed wholesalers and building contractors and lawyers and small business owners, studied whatever retailing statistics might be available, talked to the international businesses already operating in the area, all in an effort to try to figure out how much, if any, of my clients' money should be spent on developing convenience stores in that market. It was a pretty cool job when I was spending weeks at a time in Perth, or Milan, or Paris, but plans for those markets were soon solidified, and that led me to the developing world.
There were times when the job was completely disorienting. I can remember one trip when I woke up in Austin, did a meeting in London, grabbed a plane to Zurich, grabbed another plane to South Africa, did a meeting in Cape Town, then got on a plane and flew to Buenos Aires to meet with a new client. In the course of that trip, I slept about four hours, none of it before the meeting in Cape Town. My view of London, a spectacular one from Shell's impressive Thames-side HQ, was filled with the realization that just about everyone in that magnificent city was having more fun than I was. Or so it seemed. That feeling would be echoed through the years in Harare, Manila, Singapore, Port Moresby, Hong Kong, San Salvador, Caracas, Djakarta, Johannesburg, Cairo, and a whole lot more places where I felt like a prisoner in a very nice prison. I'd sneak out of the hotel or resort once in a while, but I never seemed to "get it". Either I simply didn't belong on the streets at all, or the activities designed for visiting businessmen (read: booze and hookers) were really not for me.
|Sometimes it was crazy. A client would want me in Singapore a few days after leaving Manila, so I wouldn't even go home, skipping the 40 hours worth of flying and layovers. I'd just hang out a few extra days in a hotel somewhere, with no reason to be there. I spent many sleepless nights looking out from hotel rooms into cities, picturing other people's lives, having none of my own except my laptop and HBO, writing reports, always feeling exhausted, but rarely sleeping well.||
When I watched Lost in Translation, I felt that the
filmmaker (writer/director Sofia Coppola) had been looking over my shoulder, so I guess she did a lot
correctly. Bill Murray plays me. Actually, he's a fading movie star
who is in Tokyo to do a whiskey ad campaign, but the set-up is exactly
the same as it would have been if he were playing me. He works all
day, then tries to figure out what to do at night. He rattles
sleeplessly around his room, watching Italian movies with Japanese
subtitles. He wanders down to the hotel bar, where he has to spend
most of his time avoiding road warrior assholes. He is disoriented in
the streets, and can't relate that well to the locals because of
language and cultural barriers. He inevitably ends up back in his
room, staring at the city, channel surfing through bizarre local
As it happens, he eventually hooks up with a young Yale graduate who is in town with her photographer husband, but who has no agenda of her own, and is thus going through the same thing as Murray. They are two of the three important characters in the film. The third is Tokyo: loud, confusing, garish, and so very foreign to the eyes of two weary Americans.
That is all the film is about: a world-weary older man and a smart young woman who are each too complex and evolved for their own good, and a gigantic, confusing city.
At first, I found it difficult to get involved in the film. It is paced very slowly, and scenes seem to go on long after their point has been made. It takes too long for Murray and the woman to meet and to start hanging out. But then, when they finally linked up, it hooked me in, and couldn't let go when I realized how completely honest the film was in picturing Murray's and the woman's weariness and alienation in Japan. The script stayed honest, irrespective of whether that led into politically incorrect or culturally insensitive territory (the Japanese seem like shallow, time-wasting morons), because the narrative had to stay in the POV of bewildered foreigners. That picture is not what Tokyo is, necessarily, but how they perceived it.
The two of them never became lovers. They exchanged some deep parts of their souls, but never their bodies. On Murray's last day in town, they said good-bye a couple of times, not knowing how to mark the end of a relationship that meant something to them, yet had really been only a few conversations here and there. Should they hug or kiss or something? Finally, Murray went back, determined to mark this important stage in his life with a proper ending. He grabbed her, hugged her, kissed her, whispered something to her that we could not hear, and walked away. I've been there, too, on those overseas adventures, so involved with another person's life that I couldn't bear to leave her, still really just getting to know her, yet knowing that I had to leave, and that there was no way to fit that woman into my life. Watching Murray say good-bye to Scarlett Johannson, I remembered so clearly saying good-bye to Anita in Hungary when I had to leave and she had to stay. I wanted to say more but didn't know what to say. Like Murray in the movie, I couldn't say I loved her because I didn't know her well enough to love her. I loved as much as I knew. Each of us wished we could have more time together, but we knew we could not. Each of us had lived a brief and blissful life in counter-earth with the other, happy for that chance, but crushed by the imminence of its ending so soon and so absolutely. Each of us wanted to mark the day in some important way, but we didn't know how. I was twenty five years her senior, just as Murray was in this movie. Was it emotionally irresponsible of me to get so involved in relationships which are surely doomed, even though I was single? Probably. He without sin may cast the first stone.
When I saw that farewell scene, I felt that my privacy had been invaded. I knew that Sofia Coppola, and/or whomever she collaborated with on this script, had really been in that situation and knew exactly what it was like, and had told it like it was.
Will the characters see each other again? I doubt it, but that is me speaking, not the movie. The movie lets each of us have his own final word on the matter, because the words whispered by Murray remain a secret between the two screen characters.
Bill Murray is terrific in this film. Essentially, he is playing a guy a lot like Harrison Ford - the name is Bob Harris - world-weary, grouchy, sardonic, tight-lipped, a formerly colossal star who stayed married to the same woman for 20+ years. I don't think it is illogical to think that Harrison was the model, at least in a very general sense. The woman Ford stayed married to for those two decades was Sofia Coppola's regular babysitter. Sofia wrote this screenplay. The connection is there, but the model was loose to begin with, and Bill Murray made it looser. The character isn't really based on Ford, or Murray, or even a combination, but on somebody pulled out from somewhere deep inside of Murray, from a place that nobody knew existed.
Except for Ford himself, I can't imagine anyone else playing this role, and even ol' Indiana Jones would have had trouble conveying the depth of emotions that Murray pulled out of his facial expressions. Without saying a single word, he made my eyes tear up once. Hell, this movie was my life story, or at least a decade of it, and Murray played me better than I could have played myself. I can't believe this is Bill Murray I'm talking about. Whoda thunk it?
The script made me think of things I once experienced, but had forgotten. It made me remember dreams I had cast away. All I can tell you is they either made this movie just for me, or it must be a helluva good movie to get me to insert myself vicariously into the action. Maybe a big chunk of both. I don't know why the rest of you would give a hot damn about my life, because it really wasn't that lively, and this movie isn't that lively, but they definitely got all the details right.
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