Movie Review: Lost in Translation

“The more you know who you are and what you want, the less you let things upset you.” – Bob Harris

Lost in Translation was written and directed by Sofia Coppola, and released in 2003. It tells the story of two people, Bob Harris (Bill Murray), a fifty-something movie star who has come to Tokyo to film a com­mercial for Suntory Whiskey, and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), a young woman of twenty-one who is there with her husband John, a professional photographer on assignment.

In the scene that follows, we  get our first glimpse into the problems created by the language barrier, as Bob’s Japanese interpreter does a less than adequate job of translating the director’s instructions. A clear example of “lost in translation.” Note: When viewing this video, in order to understand the director and interpreter, it is necessary to click on the CC (Closed captioning) button in the lower right-hand corner of the video.

There is a 16-hour time difference between Los Angeles and Tokyo, and Bob and Charlotte are both suffering from jet lag, which is a constant presence in this movie. Unable to sleep, their paths cross in the hotel bar, where they begin to get acquainted. Though Bob has been married for 25 years – “25 long ones” he tells Charlotte – and Charlotte for only two, both are feeling increasingly distant from their spouses. When Charlotte asks Bob what he’s doing in Tokyo, he answers, “Taking a break from my wife, forgetting my son’s birthday, and getting paid two million dollars to endorse a whiskey when I could be doing a play somewhere.” Later, we see Charlotte talking on the phone with her friend Lauren, to whom she confides, “John is using these hair products. I don’t know who I married.” It’s interesting to contrast John’s nagging Charlotte about her smoking with Bob’s readiness to light her cigarette.

We see quickly that Bob and his wife are just going through the motions, as are Charlotte and John. With each other, however, they feel an immediate rapport, born in part out of their relief at meeting someone from home when they are feeling lost and alone in a foreign country. Charlotte is also attracted by Bob’s ability to make her laugh, and he by how natural she is with him. She isn’t at all impressed by his celebrity.

For my money, Lost in Translation is worth any number of big-budget action flicks. Watching Bob and Charlotte as they forge bonds of friendship and trust is one of the most satisfying movie experiences I can remember. These are people with real lives, real problems. I’m reminded of something I wrote years ago in my review of Bagdad Cafe:

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this movie is how much we come to care about these people and how quickly we are drawn into their world. Credit for this must go… to writer/director Percy Adlon and his wife and writing partner Eleonore, who understand that great cinema does not depend on spectacle and special effects, but on finding and exploring situations in which the audience can relate to their characters.

In short, this is an exceptional movie, with many subtleties that reveal themselves only upon repeated viewings. It’s a great date night movie, rated R only because of one brief, unerotic scene in a Tokyo topless bar.

Derrick Robinson

Published in: on October 31, 2017 at 9:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Movie Review: “Groundhog Day”

“What if there is no tomorrow?  There wasn’t one today.”

groundhog_day“Groundhog Day” is a 1993 movie that asks the question, “What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?”  It was based on a story by Danny Rubin, directed by Harold Ramis and stars Bill Murray as Phil Connors, a weatherman for WPBH-TV in Pittsburgh, Pa., and Andie McDowell as Rita, his new producer.

It is February 1st, the day before Groundhog Day.  Immediately following the five o’clock news and weather, Phil and Rita and their cameraman Larry (Chris Elliot) drive from Pittsburgh to Punxsutawney to cover that town’s annual Groundhog Day celebration.  Next day, after taping their report, they head back to Pittsburgh but are halted by an unexpected blizzard and forced to return to Punxsutawney.  The following morning, for the second day in a row, Phil wakes up at six o’clock to the sound of Sonny and Cher singing, “I’ve Got You, Babe” on the radio.  (Not a bad choice, certainly, but wouldn’t “Yesterday Once More” by the Carpenters have been perfect?)  He soon realizes that he is reliving the previous day, as if it had never happened.

By day number three, Phil begins to understand that he is caught in a time loop of some kind, with no choice but to continue to relive Groundhog Day over and over.  In Ramis’ hands, this whimsical premise turns out to be a fruitful one.  Phil quickly grasps that there are no lasting consequences to anything he does, and that, no matter what, he will wake up the next morning and it will be Groundhog Day all over again.  Watching his repeated, futile attempts to break out of the time loop, I was reminded of Bob Dylan’s “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again”:

Here I sit so patiently
Waiting to find out what price
You have to pay to get out of
Going through all these things twice.

In these early scenes, we see clearly that Phil is a first-class jerk, arrogant, self-centered, and rude.  When asked, “What are you doing for dinner?” he replies, “Something else.”  He refers to the people of Punxsutawney as morons and hicks, and is not above using to his advantage the knowledge he has gained from having experienced this day many times before: to seduce the locals and rob an armored car, for example.

His attempts to charm the lovely Rita, however, seem doomed to failure.  “I know you’re egocentric,” she tells him.  “It’s your defining characteristic.”  She even recites from “My Native Land” by Sir Walter Scott:

…The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonour’d, and unsung.

Being himself is getting Phil nowhere – literally – not with Rita and not out of the time loop either.  He finally comes to realize that Rita is worth trying to change for, and watching him make the effort, I was reminded of a quotation by George Eliot: “It is never too late to be what you might have been.”

Bill Murray and Andie McDowell are perfect in the lead roles, and the supporting cast is first-rate. With Bill Murray, there always seems to be an unspoken, ironic sub-text, some private joke, while Andie McDowell, on the other hand, is the soul of sincerity.

“Groundhog Day” is the ideal date night movie: It is romantic, yet projects a rare, mischievous kind of humor.  It deals with a question we have all asked ourselves:  “If I had my life to live over again, what would I do differently?” except that in this case, the question is, “If I had one day – today – to live over again, what would I do differently?”  Phil’s answer turns out to be the same as many of ours: I would try to be kinder.

Derrick Robinson

Published in: on September 30, 2013 at 8:01 pm  Comments (3)  
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