(Check out the list so far)
The Movie: Lost in Translation (2003)
One Sentence Plot Summary: An older man builds a non-romantic connection with a much younger women, and it works because Bill Murray and Scarlett Johanssen are really good actors.
Why It’s on the List:
I remember being really interested in this film because I had seen so many Bill Murray performances at this point, and I was interested in him being in a straight drama. While I had seen him in The Royal Tenenbaums, that was him in a supporting role. This was him in a lead role playing against the much younger Scarlett Johanssen. I give Sophia Coppola a ton of credit for presenting this story in a way that is non-creepy and does a great job of exploring what it’s like to be alone and jetlagged in another country.
I am less of a fan of the way Asian countries are treated as an “other.” This is a problem so many films on this list have, and it’s something I hope we continue to become more conscious of moving forward. However, there is something to be said for going across the world and having this kind of experience. I lived in China and was awake when everyone else was asleep. I slept really strangely and dealt with jetlag.This is a film I have connected with even more after my experience after living overseas. Even without those experiences, I would still be a huge fan.
Murray apparently improvises his way through a lot of this movie, and it shows in the way people react. The fact that he is so tall but has the look of someone who could be a Harrison Ford like performer adds to the effectiveness. Johanssen plays someone who is lost extremely well, and see her struggle to connect with her husband and just be generally annoyed by the people in his sphere. This is something I can certainly identify with. If this movie was mostly about these characters individually, I think the movie would still work. The fact they live in an existence similar to that of Jesse and Celine in the Before series elevates it. The fact that this ultimately ends with no romantic interaction (save a kiss or two) makes this one of the most impressive romantic/non-romantic films ever made.
*White people finding themselves in Asian countries is something that needs to go away. This goes for all genres. So…. Africa?
*I didn’t like the scene with Bob Harris and the apparent sex worker in 2003, and now I find it really gross.
*I’ve heard the reasoning, and I’m still perplexed about the opening shot. It does not make sense as the rest of the film goes out of its way to not treat Johanssen as a sex object.
MVP and Best Performance: Sophia Coppola has been a mixed bag as a director for most of the last 15 years, so I think a lot of the credit for why this film continues to work is the chemistry of Bill Murray and Scarlett Johanssen. It would be really easy for this relationship to feel creepy and not work. It still mostly does almost 20 years later, even in the time of #MeToo. There is something to be said for being another country and feeling like you’re either lost or incredibly lonely. The idea of finding someone and being able to build a connection that quickly is something I can connect with, and these two actors made me believe. I’m not sure I’d compare them to Bogart and Bacall, but it’s still one of the better pairings of the century.
Best Quote: Whatever Murray whispers in Johanssen’s ear at the end. It’s got to be great, right?
Is there a sequel? No, but I would be really intrigued to see how a Japanese director might approach this with the main characters in the strange land of America or a film where an older woman is building a connection with a younger man.
Check out Ben & Matt’s podcast review of this film for There Will Be Movies.