Play It Again – Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation

By Jess Lomas
December 10, 2013

Play It Again is a weekly feature in which our classic-film connoisseurs revisit a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line. (Hey, whatever. It fits!) As we celebrate Quickflix’s tenth birthday, we’re looking back on some of the most beloved films from the past decade!

Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation meditates on the experience of being thrown into the absurd and finding the familiar. Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is a Hollywood actor past his prime, now making his living as the face of Suntory whisky in Tokyo. While battling jet lag, he encounters another American staying at the hotel, recent college graduate Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson). She’s accompanying her photographer husband (Giovanni Ribisi) on a work assignment, but he seems more interested in the women he shoots, including ditzy actress Kelly (Anna Faris).

Bob and Charlotte strike up an unusual friendship, first inadvertently, during  the midnight hours they roam the hotel halls and bar, and then more intentionally. They confide in one another, revealing among other things their marital problems. Surrounded by neon billboards, wacky Japanese television hosts, menus they can’t read and a language they don’t speak, they take comfort in one another during their short stay. It’s the sort of friendship you can only have with a stranger, which makes it all the more unlikely yet believable.

Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation is both bittersweet and incredibly funny, thanks largely to Murray, whose performance, along with his turns in Wes Anderson’s films of the period, introduced him to a new audience. As Bob struggles with finding meaning in his life, and ponders where his marriage is headed, he receives 4am faxes about home renovations and FedEx boxes filled with carpet samples. To him, it is just as ridiculous as the environment he’s found himself in, and it is these small moments, and Murray’s reactions, that delight. Also worth noting is Johansson’s performance, so measured and vulnerable considering her age. It serves to remind you how much she is underused in movies such as The Avengers.

The back-to-back success Coppola experienced with The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation is a rare feat she’s yet to experience again. (She wrote the screenplays to both, winning an Oscar for the latter). Coppola doesn’t give you all the answers in Lost in Translation; when Murray whispers in Johansson’s ear at the end of the picture we don’t know what exactly is being said, but all that comes before trains us to believe it involves being true to yourself.


Lost in Translation is available on Quickflix.

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