Two Americans in Tokyo. Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is there for work – her husband’s work. Neglected, she spends er time gazing down upon the city from the cloisters of her hotel room. Elsewhere in said hotel, Bob (Bill Murray) is suffering the indignity of doing foreign commercials ow that his movie work has dried up. It’s a nice pay day but a blow to his ego. His wife nags him long-distance, via middle of the night faxes.
When Charlotte and Bob meet, they are immediate kindred spirits. Lonely and American, they form a bond that mimics intimacy. In their glowy little bubble, they experience the quirks and sights of Japan; its foreign-ness feels less daunting and more adventurous when they’re together. When they’re apart, it emphasizes their aloneness. But they always revert to the comfort and familiarity of their luxurious but non-descript hotel. In he hotel, they could be anywhere. They develop such a strong sense of we vs. them that even other Americans seem wrong to them, are laughable. Of course, their friendship is a little dangerous: it won’t be good for either of their marriages.
Bill Murray is good – Oscar-nominated good. His improvisations are so good you can literally see extras cracking up in some scenes. Scarlett Johansson was only 17 when this was filmed, so she’s more of a blank slate, having not yet picked up a lot of the acting crutches and mannerisms upon which she’s come to rely. Actually, in 2018, Lost in Translation is 15 years old, which is almost as old as she was when she made it. That’s something to think about, isn’t it?
Writer-director Sofia Coppola probably made her biggest splash with this film. It pulses with life because she threw so much of herself, her own insecurities and worries, into it. Both of these characters travel to an alien land to truly realize how isolated they’ve become. They are disconnected from their spouses, and communication back home is sporadic and brief. There’s a longing for connection that’s an evident, live thread woven into the tapestry of this film. So many small details add up as proof of their passionate friendship, which is far more effective in this context than a sexual relationship would have been.
The film’s sparsity of dialogue speaks volumes to language not being the greatest barrier between people. Communication happens on all levels, and Coppola signals this in her final scene, with that elusive yet beautiful ending in which Murray whispers something unintelligible to Johansson, and they share a tender kiss. What did he say to her? We may never know the words, but ew unddertand the meaning.