I didn't see Lost In Translation in the theaters, but that should surprise no one who knows me: I don't often go to see movies in theatrical release. There are few theaters worth going to these days. Most movies are shown at the local mall, in a Multiplex-From-Hell, which I avoid like the plague. I figure if it's worth seeing, I'll rent or buy the DVD, and watch it at home. Of course, with two little ones in the house, anything over a G rating can't be watched until the wee hours of the AM, and these days those hours are reserved for sleeping and the internet - not necessarily in that order. But after many months of avoiding the inevitable, I succumbed to the recent gentle proddings of someone whose impeccable taste I trust without reservation, and bought the DVD of LIT, which I finally watched it last night.
In a nutshell, I thought the story and the movie were both marvelous. As a former film school student - I have about half a degree in film-making under my belt - I loved the characters, the story, the cinematography and the whole mise en scene. I found it every bit as good as so many reviewers said it was, with Bill Murray as perfect in his role as Scarlett Johansson was in hers.
But not everyone liked it. And, in fact, a good friend told me last year that she left half-way through, not because she found it offensive in any way, but because she thought it boring and ridiculous. She said she didn't like the meandering nature of the story. But that's precisely what appealed to me, even already knowing the gist of it. I think she objected to the fact that the film didn't fit into a formula, that it didn't have action, that various scenes seemed to collide with each other, that not all the details were penciled in for the audience, that the ending was somewhat ambiguous, and left loose ends hanging.
But life is entirely like that, isn't it: serendipitous and unexpected? We make plans, only to see them fail miserably, and then we turn a corner, ride an elevator, say hello to a stranger, and a whole new scenario plays itself out in ways we couldn't have scripted if we'd tried. But perhaps that's why most Hollywood movies are so successful: many people want to escape the monotony of their lives, they want action and adventure. And maybe that's what some disliked about LIT, that it made them wait, that it made them think, that it didn't answer questions as much as merely pose them.
Many of the reviews I read of LIT made reference to an 'unrequited' love affair between Bob and Charlotte. But there was nothing unrequited about it. Dictionary.com defines the term as "Not reciprocated or returned in kind," but in fact, to all appearances, the two were very much in the same place. They both shared a connection that neither seemed willing to make explicitly sexual - at least during the short time they were to have together. But their connection was no less romantic or less deep for not having been consummated.
Both seemed to understand intuitively that the relationship they shared during their few short jet-lagged days together was going to affect them deeply and for the rest of their lives, and that adding a sexual liaison to the mix would have changed it, probably to its detriment. They had much more between them than just a mere friendship, and it seemed they were tapping into something far deeper than any casual sexual affair could have offered them.
It was telling that Bob ended up in bed with the lounge singer after little more than Hello-and-a-Drink, somewhat to his own chagrin, and that Charlotte seemed more than a little upset by it. He was not beyond cheating sexually on his wife, and yet seemed unwilling to pursue Charlotte that way. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that she had initiated the first contact between them. Perhaps it was because he sensed that she was young and vulnerable, and didn't wish to take undue advantage. Perhaps he just savored the sweet way things were developing between them. No answers are offered, or even hinted at.
Yet for all that, their relationship wasn't entirely non-physical, either. At one point, Charlotte lays her head on Bob's shoulder; at another, they lie in bed watching tv and talking - he places his hand on her ankle; they walk arm-in-arm and hand-in-hand through the hotel; and, at the end, they kiss goodbye. It's clear that both have made a deep connection that wanted to be expressed. While I suspect that if their story had been played out over a month (or six), they would have ended up making love. Instead they made a sort of love connection that didn't end up horizontal.
I particularly liked the juxtaposition and superimposition of images and metaphors: the age difference between Bob and Charlotte, the culture differences of Americans adrift in Japan, the unrewarding marriages, the sense of both he and she feeling lost and unsure of their destinies, albeit at different stages of life.
The story could have been set in Paris or London or New York, but the same sense of wonder and bewilderment wouldn't have been possible as was in Tokyo, with its customs so similar and yet so different from the West. Likewise, I think it would have possible to tell the story with a younger Bob or older Charlotte, but it wouldn't have had the same punch. And it could have worked with Bob being, perhaps, a businessman of the same age, but would not have been as believable. Being a movie star gave him the cache' it would take attract a much younger woman.
A large part of the power of the story was precisely the unlikeliness of the encounter, only made possible by circumstance, resulting in a deep connection between them that was powerful and undeniable. And, in like manner, the ending was especially poignant and bittersweet, with Bob initially saying goodbye to Charlotte without so much as a hug, only to go after her in a crowd, to hug and kiss her goodbye after all, slightly awkward but so very tender.
In short, if you haven't seen it, don't worry, I haven't spoiled a thing. Watch it anyway. If you are disappointed, it won't be because you know the story. I will watch it again and I have no doubt I will enjoy it the next time as much as I enjoyed it the first.