The Top Ten (or so) Films of the Decade: #7 Lost in Translation (Coppola, 2003)
I fell in love with this movie right around the same time I fell in love with poetry, a connection that I can’t imagine being a coincidence. Compared to the typical multiplex fare, this is a different kind of movie altogether, and it must be watched in a different way altogether if you want to see it for what it is. It was also a gateway film for me, and since seeing it, the way I watch movies has never been the same.
I know a lot of people who love this film, for a variety of reasons: It’s a Valentine to friendship, to meaningful human connection; to the city of Tokyo; to the beauty of color and light, and to the singular way in which a skilled filmmaker like Sofia Coppola can capture it. And I know those who hate it, because it is slow, or because, supposedly, “nothing happens.”
But there is plenty that happens; it just happens at a different speed than what many moviegoers are used to. I love that Coppola begins this movie with a series of seemingly-random images,an aesthetic trick she returns to several times, as if to alert us to the fact that this is a film we must see in a different way, a story that is told as much through the poetry of images and light, of small gestures and what is never said aloud. It requires us to adjust our eyes, our minds, and our expectations.
And what we find when we do that is a story of rich meaning and deep feeling. This is far from a cold or emotionally distant film; it is a hot-blooded, utterly available film about feelings of loss and lack of connection, about human intimacy and compassion, about little gestures of grace that have lasting, resounding impact. The story is written across Bill Murray’s face, and his remains one of my very favorite performances of the decade– though it is a symbiotic one that wouldn’t have worked were it not for the fine, richly layered work by Scarlett Johansson.
What it isn’t is a film about how to have a healthy marriage. The characters do not always make wise decisions. But it isn’t meant to be a moral treatise. It’s a film that simply observes, and invites us to look on with it, to see things for what they are and to make our own judgments about them.
Let it also be said that, whether one loves or hates this movie, few will call into question how flawlessly and evocatively it captures the sensation of jet lag and disorientation– a sign that this is nothing if not an accomplished film from a consummate filmmaker, one in which sophistication and artistry contain within them something deeply and wonderfully human.