"Bill Murray, whose face is somewhat like a rumpled bed sheet that needs one more tug... "

LOST IN TRANSLATION

An Illusion review by Joan Ellis


                Bill Murray endows “Lost in Translation” with a gentleness that is so often the core of real loneliness.  His is the sadness born of physical and emotional dislocation, and he delivers both in a performance full of subtlety and complexity. 

Bob Harris (Mr. Murray) is on the after side of success as a movie star.  Two men in a bar enthuse, “Aren’t you…..yeah, we loved that car chase.”  It’s over.  So Bob has come to Tokyo to pick up some easy money by making a whiskey commercial for Japanese television.  Inwardly dazzled by the brilliance of the city, he wraps himself in a subtle, self-protective cynicism when he is with his hosts. 

                This is a man alone in Tokyo.  By day he learns what the film crew is saying to him only through a translator.  By night he is cut off from communication entirely.  Turning to hotel TV, he finds, of course, even the world news station is broadcast in Japanese.  He can find no familiar touchstone.  A call from home from a controlling wife about carpet samples certainly doesn’t help.  There isn’t one person he can talk to.  Writer/director Sofia Coppola trusts her actor and he trusts her.  Never explaining too much, she exposes Bob Harris’s soul with quick gestures – the men in the bar, the call from home.

And then she unfurls the initial meeting and the sweet hearted friendship that develops between Harris and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson); he is fiftyish, she, half his age.  Again Ms. Coppola takes just one shot to define the honeymooning Charlotte in a short call to a friend back home.  In a quavering voice, Charlotte cries “I don’t know the man I’ve married.”  Bob and Charlotte are two lonely people in a faraway city, and everything in their lives is lost in translation.

                In a gym workout, or a sauna, or simply moving around, Bob tries to keep up with the intense beat of Japanese life.  Unfailingly courteous, his hosts babble around him; we laugh not at the language or culture but at the plight of a man stranded within it.  He is accorded star treatment:  the luxurious Hyatt hotel, drivers, a call girl who arrives at his door in a cross-cultural disaster of a gift from his hosts.  All this intensifies both his loneliness and the connection he makes with the stranded honeymooner who crosses his path.   

                Bill Murray, whose face is somewhat like a rumpled bed sheet that needs one more tug, makes you ache both for his predicament of the moment and for the deeper loneliness it signals.  Sofia Coppola directs Murray with a light hand that allows all his talents to flow.  Scarlett Johanson’s sullen air prevents Charlotte from being as achingly realized as Murray’s Bob.  He deserves more in his loneliness than she can give.  We wonder:  how does a director so young know so much about aloneness, the condition people spend whole lives trying to correct?


Copyright (c) Illusion

Return to Ellis Home Page