Tonight I watched Lost in Translation again for the first time in several years. When I first saw it, in college, I remember loving it for its moody, dreamy long sequences of Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) winding her way through shrines and neon-lit streets of Tokyo. It’s the perfect movie for introverts. Of course, the point of the film is that connection with other humans is necessary, fraught though it may be. I never really understood why my husband’s feelings about it were so lukewarm.
Now that I’ve seen it again, I get it. Knowing your wife-to-be loves a movie where the heroine finds marriage lonely and unfulfilling might be troubling on some level. Seeing that movie at twenty, I remember I focused on the relationship between Charlotte and Bob (Bill Murray)–how wonderful, I thought, that they found each other. And I still feel that way, a little, except that now I understand that it’s both wonderful and terrible. The first six times I saw it, I thought several things about John, the photographer husband–one, he was shallow, two, he was probably cheating on her, and three, obviously Bob was her soulmate. Add those things together, and in my unmarried, twenty-year old mind, the moral complexity of their budding relationship dissolved somehow. It’s embarrassing to admit that until now, I never really thought she was cheating (too?). Or coming dangerously close to it.
I still think that one of the best scenes in the film is the one where Charlotte asks Bob, “Does it get easier?” And his honest response, that no, life gets harder–or at least it seems to when you look back. Ironically, he remembers the period of marriage that she is slogging through with great fondness–when his wife used to travel with him on business. Maybe that time was as rosy as he remembers–or maybe it’s just nostalgia. It makes me wonder if the real answer to that question, “Does it (life/marriage/everything) get easier?” is, “Not unless you are content.” Both characters are drawn to each other’s bemused cynicism, and beneath that, their numbing sense of discontent with everyone/everything around them–their loved ones, careers, even (especially?) the space-age Japanese city and its inhabitants.
Anyway, with new eyes, the romance of Lost in Translation definitely wore off this past decade. I still stand by it as a very good film, but next time I tell my husband how much I enjoy it, I’ll make sure he knows that I don’t have plans to visit Tokyo.