When I was a novice in my exploration of cinema, let alone the world cinema, I remember the fond memories associated with Lost in Translation. If that memory serves me right, it was around the time while I was shifting to a city full of hustle-bustle like the central character of Charlotte. Not knowing much about film grammar and why a particular decision impacts the psychological front of the narration, I was still engrossed in the film. I resonated deeply with Charlotte without having a clear idea of what made me connect with her.
Yet now that I think of it, isn’t that the point of emotional communication? Being able to connect with a viewer through a channel that doesn’t necessarily require or demand a justification? Sofia Coppola’s sophomore feature has that transcendental quality, which goes beyond the cinematic conventions of Hollywood.
It uses the tunes of synth-pop in a setting where it hasn’t been conventionally used. A person feeling sorrow, a deep longing, and loneliness was generally backed by the formulaic sad music – a creative formula that her creative decisions try to break. The noisiness of synth-pop music does not symbolise the mundanity in her characters’ lives. But it brings their feelings to the forefront in their journey of going against the flow. Since the long takes maintain continuity in the characters’ emotional canvas, the emotions rise over the petty, mechanical details of what actions they do.
There are a string of creative decisions that makes this film stand apart from how such a subject was previously conveyed in popular American cinema. And while Lost in Translation doesn’t necessarily fall into the category of big-budget mainstream film, it still hosts two mainstream actors – which makes the film unconventional, beautiful, and poetic.
Besides such stylistic decisions, what the film also brings out effectively is the inner world of both its central characters. Bill Murray’s character – a middle-aged, famous Hollywood actor (Bob) is seen going through his mid-life crisis. And Scarlett’s character is a 20-something graduate going through, what I would like to call, a quarter-life crisis. Something, that a lot of privileged folks like me had seen themselves fallen in during the last year or so. She is the embodiment of such an awkward stage of growth during the early stages of adulthood.
Having graduated just a year before in Philosophy, she is seen to have moved to Japan with her creative, workaholic partner. She is more of an introverted type, who doesn’t reveal much or communicate unless necessary. The absence of the said partner leaves her with no one to communicate what goes through her mind. Even the friendly person that she speaks with on a phone call leaves her high & dry – feeling yet again, ignored – and alone to deal with the emptiness that she feels. She is unsure where she belongs if not where she has been for most of her life, the places she is well acquainted with. And if living in Tokyo is an escapade from her sheltered life over there, is she content with being in this other part of the world? A place where she can’t communicate due to the barrier of language – due to a cultural dissonance that she doesn’t necessarily complain about but from which she can’t get out of. Is this loneliness going to be a part of her personality for the rest of her life? She wonders.
She comes across Bob and does not get lost in translation with him. They get on the right foot from the moments their eyes meet, and from the first verbal interaction they have. It reminds me of that monologue from Frances Ha – how this connection they feel is not necessarily sexual or romantic, but since one knows that ‘that’ is the person you will connect with – with utmost ease. He frees her to look beyond what is given. She finds solace in him, in the silent moments they share due to the feelings of loneliness that both of them seemed to be occupied with. And they hope to get out of this sadness. There is something magical in finding such a lifeline – and being one another’s lifeline without any of it being transactional.
It is antithetical to the world we live in – where everything is seen more through a prism of outcome and investment, which creates a lack of connection – of the shared warmth. Maybe that is why the scene where both of their characters run through the traffic and the crowd – amidst the busy life and the ongoing hustle-bustle – feels very emotional. Their aimless wandering does not go along the crowd of people they are passing through – where they are trying to find those moments of freedom without any particular purpose – running against a crowd that has a sense of purpose or direction – the ones that are going from or going to with a clear intention. They stand apart by daring to break the flow. The beauty of all these thoughts reflects in their emotions, actions & reactions along with the appropriate aesthetic choices. Scarlett speaks a lot more through her silences, through her muted reactions.
With such a strong emotional core, Charlotte’s character is built around the burden that she feels – the burden of the newfound freedom, which when you get, you don’t know what to do with it – the burden of carving a semblance of identity that she can call her own. The feeling of being stuck is an integral part of the journey of self-discovery – something that the script mainly navigates through her character. The character does not necessarily get out of her state of melancholy. Yet, the fact that she is not alone in feeling that way makes it a little more bearable. Through her arc, we get a nuanced portrayal of what it feels like to be alienated in a city that shows no sign of stopping. In a ‘bird out of a cage’ narrative, her character became a resonating portrait for many including me.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.