Movie Review – ‘Lost In Translation’

Posted on by Dave

By: Garrett Collins

Starring: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi, and Anna Faris

By now it is no secret that Bill Murray is a tough guy to read. Stories of him randomly taking a person’s french fry and eating it, declaring that ‘no one will believe this happened,’ as well as haphazardly showing up at random bachelor parties are legendary. Murray has a stigma surrounding him that will probably never be matched. Which is why it should come to no one’s surprise that when director Sofia Coppola wrote the part of Bob Harris specifically for him and sent it to his house, she didn’t get an answer on whether or not he would do it for months. Was Murray playing coy? Was he just playing games with the young director, eventually planning to take the project all along? Or, did he seriously consider turning it down? Rumors point to all three being true at one point or another. But thank goodness for Coppola’s persistence in convincing Murray to take the role, as Lost in Translation is one of the most beautiful and formally organic motion pictures about loneliness and alienation to come down the pike in quite a while, as well as the most romantic unromantic film to ever be released.


The film is centered on Murray’s Bob Harris & Johansson’s Charlotte meeting and developing a friendship amongst the loneliness of their own lives. You would think a plot like this would involve a huge introduction to both characters. That would be a completely wrong assumption as Coppola takes the opening moments of both main characters’ introduction to show them looking out the window of a life that might have been or might be in the future. Of course, as a full-blooded heterosexual guy, I like Charlotte’s introduction, which involves one of the most captivating opening shots in film history, a bit more. The fascinating thing about how Coppola establishes her two main characters is watching the way they communicate with others that don’t involve each other. While Charlotte’s husband (Ribisi) is telling her about the photography project they are in Tokyo to do, Charlotte couldn’t be more uninterested. It’s not that she is cold and unloving. She is just lonely and uncertain. Harris has problems of his own, as he does everything wrong, from forget his son’s birthday to being completely lost while trying to communicate with the main photographer during the shoot for his new liquor ad. These developments are not accidents.


In fact, there are no camera shots or human relationships in Lost in Translation that should be classified as an accident. Shots through trees as Charlotte explores her surroundings captivate and establish a mood of what exactly is going on in her head at the time. Harris, a loner in both his home and past his prime celebrity life, doesn’t hesitate to get a hooker for his room or sleep with the hotel lounge singer to have companionship. But when it comes to Charlotte, Coppola makes sure to show an overhead shot of the bed and Harris respecting her space, not even going as far as to put a hand on her back. He is completely respectful of her, which is why when she finally leans her head on his shoulder; it is as powerful a shot as it is. Its subtle touches like these that in future projects will get Coppola in narrative trouble. But all of these shots and movements work perfectly within the context of Lost in Translation.


When away from each other, they are completely lost. But when they are together, their communication is magical. The way they exchange glances. The way Charlotte warmly giggles when Harris is around, yet does a lot of fake giggling with her husband. Lost in Translation is not a fed to your ego rom-com. This is two friends laughing. Having fun. What exactly happens when Charlotte is out with Bob and they find themselves karaoking in a random person’s house? We’re really not sure. But we see them smiling, and that’s all that’s needed to communicate their happiness and the way they are feeling.


Despite a very funny bit on a treadmill, a couple funny moments on an elevator, and a hilariously campy performance by Farris (whose character was supposedly based Cameron Diaz, who worked with Coppola’s then husband Spike Jonze in Being John Malkovich), Lost in Translation is not a comedy. But this should not deter you from checking it out, as it has many poignant moments of friendship that tell all the stories you need. Both Murray and Johansson have had great moments in their careers, but I do not think I would be out of line if I said they have never been better than they are here. Murray losing the Academy Award that year was quite simply the result of Hollywood taking a look at itself in the mirror and seeing the down on his luck character Murray portrayed looking right back at them. Plus, if anything, Lost in Translation is a lesson in persistence, as out of his entire resume, Murray reportedly holds the film high as his favorite. Not bad for a writer/director who was laughed at thirteen years earlier for her onscreen role in Godfather III, and wasn’t sure for many months whether Murray was even going to do it or not.


5 out of 5

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