I re-watched Lost in Translation the other day – I got the idea after stumbling onto this interview with Bill Murray on the Charlie Rose show. (Do yourself a favor – take 50 minutes out of your life and watch this clip. Three-quarters of the way it becomes a spiritual experience.) One of my life’s dreams is to have Garrison Keillor read a poem of mine on his Writer’s Almanac radio show. Now I have a new one, and that’s to spend an hour stoned with Bill Murray.
But that’s not likely to happen, so I streamed Lost in Translation over my laptop in the afternoon on the kitchen table (it’s on Netflix) instead. And even under those less-than-ideal movie watching circumstances, I was so completely taken into the world of this film that 48 hours later I’m still heartbroken. That’s really the only word for it. I fell for it pretty hard ten years ago, but this time it’s a whole different thing. Why would a beautiful film leave me so rattled?
In one way, this movie leaves an impact because it is such a total sensory experience. It’s filmed using natural light exclusively – apparently this is rarely done – so it looks warm and real. There’s very little camera “action” or panning – it’s like a documentary made of perfectly framed photographs – so it’s slow, and peaceful, and hypnotic. The acting is as subtle – and sublime – as life. It has Scarlett Johansson (sigh). And the soundtrack is as enrapturing as a Buddhist temple.
But there’s something else at work here. I suppose my personal circumstances – divorced, surprised, wondering here at the halfway mark if this is all there is, and what could possible come next, if anything – make me particularly susceptible to elegiac paeans to love and delayed gratification and the meaning of life, especially when so gracefully, honestly presented. I also know, as a poet-wannabe, I’ve been mostly silent for two years, trying to translate deeply felt experiences into words but finding it impossible to do, a kind of poetic laryngitis. And this is just like the characters in the film, who are so bewildered by their circumstances – physically as well as emotionally exhausted – they seem to lack the vocabulary to express what it is they’re experiencing in their own lives, even as they experience it. So this is a work of art that transcends commercial appeal, and gets right to the heart of what it means to be lost – in another country, in one’s life. And it leaves you wistful and moved and yes, heartbroken by its empathy to the audience. It’s a film that understands. That’s a feat of artistry beyond most others.
Over at Wikipedia there’s an analysis on the movie’s themes and aesthetics, which is cool. But first, go stream it while you can, and break your heart in the best way possible.