– Bob Harris, Lost in Translation
This is the most beautiful proclamation ever spoken on film. They are the last words in Sofia Coppola’s 2003 film Lost in Translation, spoken by Bill Murray in the back of a taxi cab on the way to the airport. They aren’t words of unabashed joy, or even words that suggest hope for a bright future. They are the assurance that things are okay for now. If that sounds like a sad statement, trust me, it’s absolutely not. In truth, it’s the exact opposite. It’s a statement of glorious purpose and truth. Those two little words are those of a sad, lonely man who finally found, for a brief moment, connection with another individual.
Let me take a step back: Bob Harris is a fading actor in an unhappy marriage promoting a whiskey in Tokyo. Charlotte is a lonesome Yale graduate and aspiring photographer who can’t connect with her husband. They meet in the hotel bar and in a series of conversations, nights walking about and visiting parties, eventually, form a connection. Then Bob leaves Tokyo, he and Charlotte say goodbye, and that’s the end of it.
It’s not a story with plenty of twists and turns. In fact, every moment in the film follows the other exactly how it should. It follows the predictable patterns seen literally billions of times before in our own lives. That’s where the brilliance of the film lives.
Much of Charlotte’s screen time is filled by her wandering around Tokyo alone, set to the most beautiful soundtrack of all time. Her POV shots of the city aren’t objective landscape shots, meant to merely look pretty. As Charlotte watches people cross the streets in large, chaotic, beautiful herds, there is a loneliness, a longing for connection, a sublime appreciation for strangers.
Bill Murray’s performance is the best of his career. His acting is so nuanced, his gestures fine-tuned to perfection, that he doesn’t seem to be acting at all. Bob Harris has real loneliness, a flawed yet likable human being. It’s a miracle of film.
The cinematography is glowing, dream-like, as if the entire film is a joint memory of Bob and Charlotte. The humor is quietly hilarious, encapsulating the confusion of being in another country. And Anna Farris’ performance as a ditzy American actress is incredible. I’m not kidding you.
A favorite film is very personal. I don’t expect Lost in Translation to be everyone’s favorite. It’s certainly not as vast as other films. It’s an intimate and small film. Yet watching it, I can’t help myself. It’s how I see the world, observe other people, hear music, see the faces I make when I’m talking to myself. It’s perfect, and it’s marvelous, and I love it so much. I hope you do too.