This is the movie review arena of Dave Mitchell and Trevor Taylor. We are fed up with stupid critics who pick the movies that nobody goes to watch. (BEWARE: PLOT-DETAILS/SPOILERS INCLUDED!!!)

Friday, February 06, 2004

Lost In Translation (R): contains sexual content

How do you define infidelity? Is it simply having sex with someone who is not your spouse? Or do you consider infidelity to be as much about emotional unfaithfulness as physical?

This was the question that refused to leave my mind as I watched Sofia Coppola's highly (and in most cases, deservingly) praised sophomore directing effort. But I will leave off this question for the moment and look at the film itself.

Lost in Translation follows the story of two Americans from different, but loosely related backgrounds who meet each other while in Japan. Bob (portrayed by the outstanding Bill Murray) is a formerly popular movie actor, whose star seems to have faded. Instead of "doing a play somewhere", he is in Tokyo filming endorsement ads for whiskey. We are clued in on the fact that his marriage has become virtually loveless and more a thing of numb habit than actual love. His phone conversations throughout the film demonstrate this, as well as his descriptions of his relationship with his wife that he shares with the film's other lead. He feels like his wife no longer needs him, and has stopped truly caring for him.

The other lead is the equally outstanding (and incredibly attractive) Scarlett Johannson, who plays Charlotte, a Yale-educated loner married to a loving but busy celebrity photographer (Giovanni Ribisi). Charlotte is "married to the industry" so to speak, but tries desperately to keep celebrity types at arm's length. She spends the entire film searching for meaning, friendship, and community. Her husband is so busy with work that she spends most of her time alone in the hotel room, staring out the window overlooking the Tokyo skyline.

It's hard to describe either of these characters. They both have a small degree of condescention for the rest of the world, but even more than that, they seem to hunger for some sort of real feeling and connection. So when they meet, incidentally at first, then purposefully, they find they have this mutual search for honest feeling, which is the basis for their friendship.

Coppola's approach to their relationship is unusual, by normal Hollywood standards. One would normally assume that the content description "sexual content" refers to the leads' love affair, but this is not the case. The most sexually intimate that Bob and Charlotte are is their kiss goodbye at the end of the film. There are two scenes of overt sexuality in the film where Bob is present, and he is clearly uncomfortable with both. (Which really drives home the difference between sexuality and intimacy, when you think about it. Bob wasn't looking for sex; he was looking for someone to share his heart with.)

Basic synopsis of the plot: Two strangers meet, romp around Tokyo, enjoy each other's company, share personal feelings and thoughts about life, then go their seperate ways. It's like the film Before Sunrise, except that Bob and Charlotte know they will never see each other again. (At least as far as I can tell.)

What I liked about the movie:
--Visually gorgeous. Great camera work. Excellent contrasts of motion and stillness.
--The soundtrack was amazing.
--Murray and Johannson are amazing, and have great chemistry. Murray should get the Oscar for this incredibly subtle, layered performance.
--The story is unconventional, and is as concerned with the character's inner journey as with progressing the narrative. Probably more concerned with inner journey, even.

What I had a problem with:
--The overtly sexual scenes. One concerns a prostitute that is sent to Bob by the company he is in town to endorse. She's kinda freaky, and the scene is both funny and very uncomfortable. The other scene is when Bob and Charlotte try to meet some of her local friends at a club. *That* kind of club. Again, Bob is incredibly uncomfortable, and so am I. I understand the purpose of the scenes, but I think the effect could have been gained without actual nudity being used.
--The marginalization of the spouses. Although, again, I understand the purpose of doing this, I still don't like it. Bob's wife is rather shrewish, and is only a footnote to the story. No, that's not true, but sometimes she seems that way. And Charlotte's husband, while flawed, is still apparently in love with her, but conveniently has to travel to another part of Japan for a four-day photo shoot, so he seems to disappear from her thoughts.

Actually, it's not entirely true. The spouses are there throughout the story, like ghosts. Whenever Bob and Charlotte are alone, and the "Tension" is there, there is always the thought of their respective spouses holding them back from doing what you expect them to eventually do. And this is why the pigeonholing of the spouses is bearable for me. Because, as I said earlier, Bob and Charlotte aren't looking for sex. They're looking for someone to listen to them, care about what they have to say. Someone who will lend them a shoulder to lean/cry on, and will accept them for their flaws. Theirs is a search for emotional intimacy.

Which brings me back to the first question: does being faithful to your spouse extend to the emotions as well as the body? And my personal feeling on this is, yes absolutely. When a married man grows to love a woman who is not his wife, his heart is being unfaithful. Any sexual intimacy after that is merely the end result of the first infidelity.

Because I feel so strongly about this, I never could feel at ease about this film. No matter how much part of me cheered for the "couple", I knew that, from my personal perspective, he was cheating on his wife and she on her husband. And no matter how awful and loveless the marriages become, that's not cool at all.

An interesting scene, when thinking about the question of emotional intimacy and attachment, is after Charlotte learns that Bob slept with the hotel lounge singer (thanks to too much alcohol). They share a silent and anguished lunch, peppered with sharp sarcastic remarks and lots of angry looks. Clearly, Charlotte feels betrayed by Bob's drunken filandering. But why does she feels this way? Becuase on some level, she feels like Bob cheated on her. There was a connection there. But, being "the other woman" (in a sense), Charlotte couldn't say anything about it. When they make up later, they never refer to the situation in these terms, however. The closest they get is "that was an awful lunch."

To be fair, they do bring up their spouses in conversation, and there are a few scenes that really seem to indicate that they each love their spouses (even though it seems that only Charlotte's really loves her back).

In the end, there is no real resolution, as Hollywood normally defines it. Bob has to go back home (to his daughter's recital), and Charlotte has to stay. She invites him to stay too, but they both know he can't. He finds her one last time, and whispers something in her ear that we can't hear. We never know what his last words to her are, and in a way, that's the point of the movie. Bob and Charlotte find in each other someone to whom they can share their secret selves, and we as the audience are simply observers, as the Relevant Magazine review said.

This is a beautifully-shot and incredibly-acted film, with a fantastic soundtrack. But I can't whole-heartedly embrace it. However, while I didn't become comfortable enough to "enjoy" the film, I do appreciate its power and loveliness.

As such, it's hard to rate. It is too good to "walk out" on, but too murky to "rock on" with. A third category is needed. One that acknowledges the parts that work, while not neglecting the things that don't.

RATING: "Think it through."

(P.S. I think this rating would apply to one of my earliest reviews also, "The Cider House Rules." To give you a reference point.)
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