hip hop music

February 24, 2004

Lost in Translation, Reconsidered

I think I liked Lost in Translation more than Sharon and O-Dub, but their critique of the film has a lot of meat on its bones, and helped me pin down what was bothering me as I watched the movie.

Although certainly overhyped, I found it a charming little film.. it is a movie where not much happens, but like Virgin Suicides it does a great job of setting a mood and gradually washing over you, keeping you engaged and striking an emotional chord without a lot of narrative pyrotechnics. Such a relatively uneventful film can look easy when you get it right but I'm sure it's much harder than it looks, and Sofia Coppola deserves mad props for pulling it off so well. And of course Bill Murray's performance was superb (the only part of this film that truly deserves an Oscar nod), and yeah I did come away with a little crush on Scarlett Johansson.

But I did have this nagging feeling that something was a little off, as I watched their interactions with the Japanese people around them and how they were affected by the environment, and this review helped me isolate the problem and figure out how to express it concretely.

Like Sharon and O, I think my problem with Coppola's characters is they were a bit too comfortable being continually bemused by the "otherness" of everything around them, rather than being compelled to look at themselves any differently. The movie is sold as portraying the experience of an outsider in a foreign land, but in truth the characters never come to terms with their outsider status. Stranded in a world where everyone else is different from them, they just keep on thinking "wow, I'm normal and everyone else here is so weird," and are never given reason to feel like they are the weird ones here. They are never forced to question the assumption that they are the center of the universe, that their American whiteness is normative.

I had forgotten this, but their review reminds me that I was especially struck by the hospital scene they cited, where Bill Murray tries in vain to communicate with two elderly women in the waiting room. I was on the edge of my seat throughout that scene, aching for him to redeem the film by finally making a human connection with someone, and laughing with them instead of at them. I tried to convince myself afterwards that this scene helped fill the void, but I wish they had used the alternate take Sharon and Oliver describe, I think it would have made the film much stronger.

Any thoughts on this from my ever erudite readership? For full disclosure I will note that I haven't seen it since it first hit theaters, and tried to rent it before I wrote this tonight, but it was all rented out.

Posted by jsmooth995 at February 24, 2004 8:18 PM

Weblog Archives