Lost in Translation (2003)

The loneliness of being in a hotel room, the isolation in being away from the familiar, the disconnect between you and the person you’re the closest and most intimate to are three of the many ways Lost in Translation explores human loneliness and relationships. But a great movie isn’t just what it is about, but how it goes about it.

Tokyo is the city. Neon lights, towering buildings shaped in curves, bustling streets and drizzling rain comprise this urban jungle. A softly lit hotel bar is where the two lost souls first meet. The man is Bob Harris (Bill Murray), an actor who sleepwalks his way through commercials and TV shows. The woman is Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), recently married and unsure where she fits into the world.

But that’s getting ahead of things. The beginnings are quiet moments of isolation. Riding the cab, awake at night alone, or with a group of people you don’t know talking about things that you don’t care about. These moments of isolation make the two lost souls instantly identifiable. What is more human and relatable than being alone?

The film lingers on the disconnect, those moments where one is at a loss. The disorientation of being around people who don’t speak the same language as you or the moments of being in a relationship filled with terse communication and no real affection. Human connection only widens the gaps, increases the sense of isolation and the feeling of being alone. They’re uncomfortable but necessary moments.

But it’s not all uncomfort. The film finds humor and fun in these disconnect. In an early scene with Bob, the Japanese director yells at him in long rants which the translator communicates in terse sentences. Later, the company sends him a prostitute who asks him to “lick” her stockings (she wants him to rip them). These moments of levity remind the audience that perspective can sometimes make the disconnect funny instead of frustrating.

When Bill and Charlotte connect, they bridge the gap. It’s that rare pleasure of finding someone who gets it, who understands, who is willing to be honest and vulnerable with you. For both characters, their romantic relationships are failing them, so in each other they’re able to find the companionship they lack. That companionship is not romantic, but it’s still the companionship they wish they could get from their spouses.

Together, they find ways to enjoy themselves effortlessly. There’s the joys of singing badly at karaoke or hanging out at a party at someone’s house. The key is simply enjoying each other’s presence and finding satisfaction even in the moments of silence. Conversations that flow late into the night and echo the deepest longings and heartbreaking truths of living life.

A lot of life is trying to avoid or stave off loneliness. And so many films are about finding that special someone to connect with forever. But life often doesn’t work like that. Sometimes you meet that person and it’s only for a while. Sometimes, it’s several people. Sometimes it’s years and years of loneliness and disconnection. Perhaps the best that can be hoped is to cherish the connection for as long as one can.

© 2016 James Blake Ewing