The first in an ongoing series where I revisit films I’ve seen but did not care for.
I remember first seeing Lost in Translation when it came out on video and was wholly unimpressed. It struck me as the story of a tired old man pursuing a much younger woman, or alternately, one of a young woman so filled with ennui that she falls for the first old lecher who shows her the slightest bit of attention. It didn’t help matters that (spoilers) Bob and Charlotte never get around to consummating their love or that the climax involves the sharing of a secret that we the audience aren’t privy to. It was difficult to see how this could win the Best Original Screenplay Oscar, though I wouldn’t exactly describe Finding Nemo as strong competition either. Before seeing it again, I’d have summed up my overall reaction as a resounding, “meh.”
What a difference ten years makes. Maybe my tastes have matured a bit since then, or maybe I’ve become more tolerant of films that don’t follow established plot norms. Or maybe at forty-three I’m more able to identify with a man who’s got more good days behind him than ahead. Whatever the reason, I had a much better experience this time around.
The first half of the movie solidly belongs to Scarlett Johansson. As Charlotte, she seems profoundly adrift. Just out of college, saddled with what will likely be a useless degree (honestly, who studies philosophy anymore?), two years into a marriage to a guy who’s already not that into her, it’s easy to see why she’d feel as if life has started to pass her by. Even though she tries to get her husband John (a supremely vapid Giovanni Ribisi) to engage, he’s oblivious, lost in his work. In Bob, she finds someone who has the luxury and the inclination to pay attention to her. He cares about her, about what she has to say, and he treats her as an equal. There is a sexual tension between the two of them, but to the film’s credit, they never really act on it. I originally saw this as an unrealistic misstep, but now it feels just right. They’ve already shared their most intimate thoughts and fears with one another. To add something carnal would only serve to cheapen the entire experience. He treats her as an adult who has value, something I’m not sure she’s experienced before. Armed with that knowledge and a newly-discovered confidence, she’s ready to begin her adult life. Although, that’s probably not the best news for John.
The second part of the film focuses more on Bill Murray as former action movie star Bob Harris. Originally, I didn’t care much for his performance, finding it understated and dull. I think my biggest issue might have been that I loved him so much as Carl Spackler and Dr. Peter Venkman. Sure, by the time this came out he had been in a few higher-brow movies like Rushmore, but he would also still appear in Charlie’s Angels and Garfield and I was having trouble letting go of the sarcastically hilarious asshole I’d come to love over the years. In retrospect, this film takes advantage of that. Bob has some funny lines here and there, but mostly it’s a pretty serious performance. Every now and then, we get a glimpse of Murray’s old self, much in the way that Bob still has moments when he must feel like his younger self. He acts like someone who used to have quite a bit of game but has since lost it, or more accurately, given it up. He’s resigned to the life he’s chosen but unfortunately, it’s one where he’s not very appreciated. Much in the same way he shows Charlotte she has value, she shows him he does as well. Sure, he’s initially attracted to her because she’s young, has big tits, and smiles at him in an elevator. Once they start spending time together, though, it’s the emotional experiences they share that change him. It’s an interesting symbiosis they share. Bob brings out the more mature side of Charlotte while she takes him back to a time when he was younger and more alive.
Which brings us to the much-talked about ending, wherein, before going their separate ways on a busy Tokyo sidewalk, Bob whispers something presumably profound to Charlotte that we are not allowed to hear. Ten years ago, I thought this was the biggest load of shit, and I was so very wrong. What he said to her is, quite frankly, none of our business. I don’t have any guess what it was, not do I care. All I need to know is that they were both changed by their time together in ways that are profound and that they are both better off for having met. We should all be so lucky, to meet one person in our life who makes such a difference, who gives us a glimpse of our true worth.