Written for the awesome film review podcast Flahertys On Films!
Lost in Translation (2003) came out about a year after I graduated from college. I remember seeing it in the Highland Park movie theater in St. Paul with friends (remember when you used to go to a movie theater with friends?) and just sitting there amazed when it was over, letting what I’d seen wash over me. I was in love. In love with Bill Murray and in love with Scarlett Johansson and in love with the gleaming version of Tokyo I’d just witnessed.
It may or may not surprise those who know me that for all my gruff talk and dark jokes that I’m secretly a romantic. By the time I’d seen Lost in Translation I’d already done a fair amount of traveling to places like China and Russia and the Caribbean and Italy and England. I knew what it was like to be both homesick and lovesick while culturally at sea and here was a movie that presented much of what I’d experienced in a funny, beautifully filmed package. And the soundtrack, Jesus, the soundtrack alone buzzed through me.
Listen to the girl
As she takes on half the world
Moving up and so alive
In her honey dripping beehive
-The Jesus and Mary Chain
And, at the heart of all this beauty, was the burgeoning friendship/courtship of Bob Harris and Charlotte, which somehow managed to feel innocent despite both characters being married, which felt both high stakes and low stakes at the same time, which felt like a friendly cosmic joke played by the universe. A relationship that was as much a conversation about existential loneliness and how to deal with it as it was about anything else. How to keep laughing, even when eventually you have to say goodbye and fly back to America, likely to never see a newfound friend again.
Generally I don’t watch a movie more than once or twice. Lost in Translation (along with Wonder Boys and Office Space) is one of my few great comfort movies. I have watched it many, many times. Sometimes I’ve watched it when I was sad and lonely. Sometimes I’ve watched it when I was fresh to new love. At this point, it’s basically a warm comforting film bath I can slip into when I feel the need. Existential loneliness may never totally go away, but it’s always good to have company when you can’t sleep.