Lost in Translation: Resident aliens

[Screenshot]Lost in Translation is an interesting flick. I remember it getting rave reviews back when it first came out, but I didn’t get so very fired up— maybe it was just a weak year when it came out. It was pretty good but not fabulous. I didn’t feel much depth from Scarlett Johansson: she’s OK at sulky, but did it so much better in Ghost World. Bill Murray plays the quirky and coyly seductive character he always does. They’re both comfortable in their roles: maybe too comfortable, since the movie’s about deeply uncomfortable people.

What gets me interested is the thematic element. It paints a fairly effective portrait of alienation and takes it to some unusual conclusions. For alienating elements, there’s both the macroscopic environment of the story (there are few places where an American is as out-of-place as Japan), and the microcosm of social-circle alienation (played out in every single group either of the leads end up in). The problem with the thesis though is that alienated people don’t actually connect too well with other alienated people, in my experience. This was given some lip service in that the two pricipals’ paths cross a couple of times before they hit it off, but still, to some extent, their acquaintance seems sort contrived. Their actual relationship works out OK, but the good bit’s the end: they go their own ways, happier but essentially unchanged. Maybe a bit of a downer, but that’s sort of the point, that interpersonal relationships are fleeting and precious. I found the (mercifully downplayed) romantic aspects kind of dismaying, actually, because, yes, it’s about a man meeting a woman but it’s about friendship, not love. For the most part, the actual handling of the relationship was good: it’s the existence of the connection in the first place that struck me as odd.

As a side note: is goodbye ever actually goodbye in the real world nowadays? These days everyone is connected and physical noncolocality doesn’t preclude (Platonic) intimacy. But this film doesn’t explore that, nor should it. It’s about a moment in time and space, not to be repeated as the protagonists’ lives diverge. “They dropped each other infrequent and decreasingly intimate e-mails for a year after that” isn’t really a cinematic ending, is it?

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia

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About Jake
I'm a mathematics professor at the University of Louisville, and a geek.

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