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Lost in Translation

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Jan
Lost in Translation
from Film Forum, 09/18/03

Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is an American celebrity in Tokyo to film a whiskey commercial. He's lonely, dislocated, unhappy, and having a hard time communicating with his wife over the telephone. When he meets Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), the lonely wife of a workaholic American photographer, they strike up a friendship based on their mutual dilemma. Their uniquely intimate (but fortunately not sexual) relationship slowly guides them to a place of new insight, an invigorated of hope, and adventurousness. It may even prepare and equip them for their futures as spouses.

Directed by Sofia Coppola (The Virgin Suicides) and filmed entirely in Japan, the film feels like a very personal work. Few films have betrayed such a deep love for a city. But Coppola also notes many of the sad realities of a generation immersed in new technology and empty pop culture. Showing the restraint, subtlety, and poetry of a master filmmaker, Coppola makes her second film something to treasure, a movie likely to win Bill Murray an Oscar nomination. (Johansson deserves one too.)

Many religious press critics are moved and delighted by the picture. Stef Loy (The Film Forum) says Translation's characters discover "something deeper than just a trading of physical bodies in the hope for mortal bliss. Their love story is a reflection of the needs they each have back home—Bob, to remember and recapture the zeal of his youth, and Charlotte, to find wisdom in how to keep her love alive in the years ahead."

Loy adds that Coppola has found "a style all her own. There are so many beautifully crafted shots that one is astounded at the magic of cinema. [This] could very well be the best film to hit mainstream audiences this year. It reminds us of the basics of great filmmaking: a well written script with great actors and gifted filmmakers aiming to entertain, inspire, probe, and ultimately challenge."

Michael Leary (The Matthews House Project) says, "[The film] is about the way people find homes in each other, an experience that in contemporary urban society is a familiar bedrock of meaning. In an endless city filled with what for them are empty signs and meaningless interactions they find a language game of their own to play."

J. Robert Parks (Phantom Tollbooth) calls the film "Murray's finest hour. His way with a glance or a simple gesture is pure poetry. Murray's performance reminds us of our own mortality and confronts us with our own choices. Are we sliding through life, lost in the neon glitter, or are we breaking down the barriers that separate us from true communication, true communion?"

David DiCerto (CNS) says it balances "poignant drama and lighthearted comedy, painting a tender and layered portrait of both physical and emotional isolation and effectively capturing the sense of being a stranger in a strange land."

Movieguide's critic spoils all of the movie's surprises including the ending (Beware!), and then gets technical: "Coppola is clearly a talented filmmaker, but her first two movies avoid the classic three-act structure that most great movies possess: a beginning, middle, and an end. It seems to lack a dramatic premise that carries the story through to a convincing, captivating climax."

I disagree with this assessment. The story begins with two lonely hearts setting up in the same hotel and whiling away their days on the edge of despair. The story has a middle, in which they meet and strike up a friendship that re-invigorates their mood, their minds, and their hope for a brighter future. The conclusion sends them off enlightened by their experiences, their friendship, and their sexual restraint. For me, that's a "dramatic premise" that indeed "carries the story through to a convincing, captivating climax." In fact, Lost in Translation is the richest, most rewarding story I've been told in the theatre all year. My review is at Looking Closer.

from Film Forum, 09/25/03

Manson also reviews Lost in Translation this week, which gained raves from religious press writers last week. Manson agrees: "It's worthy of whatever honors it may garner. I expect there will be many."

from Film Forum, 02/12/04

Elsewhere, Dick Staub (CultureWatch) caught up with the Sofia Coppola's Oscar-nominated Lost in Translation and calls it "a visual and verbal exploration of the agonizing disconnect and isolation that characterizes human experience. Everything in this move underscores the pain of human isolation from self, others and place. It is a brilliant expose and exploration of the human dilemma with sweet relief offered by the 'misery loves company' serendipitous friendship forged by Bob and Charlotte."