One of my favorite observations from the late great Roger Ebert appears in his review of Lost in Translation. In it, he wrote: “you can only say ‘I feel like I’ve known you for years’ to someone you have not known for years.” It’s the irony of how sometimes you’re able to have deeper conversations with people you’ve only just met than with those you’ve known all your life. With no mutual baggage, discussion is free to soar between you. This is of course an important part of Sofia Coppola‘s masterpiece, in which Bill Murray‘s Bob and Scarlett Johansson‘s Charlotte encounter one another in a hotel bar in Tokyo and together discover how lost they are in their lives. The two connect is a wonderful way, but they know it’s a temporary thing. Perhaps that knowledge is what allows the connection to happen at all.
The other side of the coin is that we can feel distant to the people we have known well for a long time. This too is part of the film for both main characters. With Charlotte, it can be seen in how little time she and her husband (Giovanni Ribisi) get to spend with one another, but it’s also shown in an early scene where she phones home to a friend and talks about how visiting a shrine didn’t make her feel anything. The conversation reaches an abrupt end. She has a need for deeper discussion, but it feels awkward.
Similar ground is explored with Bob later on in the film, and it’s one of my favorite scenes of Lost in Translation. Bob is in a bath, getting a phonecall from the woman he has been married to for the past 25 years. Bob is going through a midlife crisis; he has probably been aware of this himself for a while – he seems prone to introspection – but spending time with Charlotte has made it more tangible to him. He wants to change things in his life. He tries to communicate this to his wife, and you can really feel how he’s struggling to get the right word out. But he can’t do it. All he can muster up is how he wants to eat healthier food, to which he gets a snippy response about how maybe he should just stay in Tokyo if things are so great there. Then he asks how their kids are doing, to which he gets the reply that they miss their dad but are getting used to him not being around. Ouch.
And then this wonderful exchange happens.
“Do I need to worry about you, Bob?”
“Only if you want to.”
Nothing dramatic. No anger. No tears. Just calm resignation. This is Bob’s life.