Wednesday 30 September 2009

Tom Scheff on Lost in translation

Lost in translation is a film directed by Sofia Coppola who won, with it, the 2004 Oscar for writer of the best original screenplay. The film is set in Tokyo. It's about Bob (Bill Murray) who has gone there to make a whiskey commercial, and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), wife of a photographer. Bob is an American film star whose career is in decline. Charlotte has recently graduated from Yale with a degree in philosophy. Whereas he seems to be nearing the end of his working life, she is at the beginning of hers. Both are lonely, oppressed by a sense of emptiness, wondering about what it all means. They make a connection, of sorts, as Americans negotiating the difficulties of Japanese language and culture. The word "translation" in the film's title implies both a move from one place to another and the idea that a comprehensible meaning is available or might be found. Might there be meaning in this new relationship—a meaning that Bob and Charlotte have lost? Or might a meaning be found in this Non-Western culture?

One of the questions on which Tom Scheff, a contributor to OnFiction, has written engagingly and profoundly over the years is of how the most important issue in life—the making and maintaining of meaningful connections with each other—seems to have become so difficult. Has modern society, with all its facilities for travel and communication, paradoxically made connection between us harder? Is there a cure for the debilitating disease of alienation? Tom's thoughtful and thought-provoking essay-review of Lost in translation is a discussion of how the art of this film might illuminate these issues.

I enjoyed Lost in translation as a witty and engaging comedy. I did, however, find its occasional making fun of the Japanese a bit off-putting, although the ethnic jokes were perhaps meant to indicate that something else gets lost, here, in translation between the West and Japan. I would give the film three stars on a five-star scale, although I think Tom would give it more. So lets say this is a four-star film. I have placed Tom's essay-review of it in our section of Film Reviews, for which please click here.


Paul Lamb said...

I suspect that the problem of connectedness is not unique to our modern society. "Only connect" was the theme of Forster's novel Howard's End published nearly a century ago.

thomas scheff said...

Most scholars think that it is the urban/industrial nature of modern societies that gives rise to mass disconnection. This change began well over two hundred years ago, in England, as it happens.

It seems to me that the traditional societies that were replaced also had a problem, too much connection, such that the individual was not allowed sufficient development, in creativity, say.

If this is the case, than the problem is to find the right balance between self and other, not only the right amount of connection, but also the right amount of disconnection.

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