Competing visions in “Lost in Translation” and “Her”
“Lost in Translation” struck me as the right movie for this week because Oscar season is coming up and it presents a very dramatic juxtaposition with one of the Best Picture contenders.
You see, Sofia Coppola, the writer-director of “Lost in Translation,” which won for Best Original Screenplay, and Spike Jonze, writer-director of “Her,” which is expected to win Best Original Screenplay this year, used to be Hollywood’s big couple. While art should be taken for its own sake, it’s a lot more fun to view these movies as thinly veiled statements, and they give us a lot of good reasons to do so. The similarities between these two movies, although years apart, are compelling. Both use Scarlett Johansson as the love interest and take place in gleaming, impersonal Asian cities (Tokyo in “Translation” and Shanghai digitally imposed on LA in “Her”). Besides their eerily similar aesthetic, both protagonists deal with failing or failed relationships by finding totally different connections with new strangers.
Jonze’s Theodore Twombly is recovering from a failed relationship with an ex-wife who grew tired of him and left, and he was powerless to stop her. “Her” was made many years after “Lost in Translation,” and Twombly is a man who is still scarred by a relationship that has been over for a while. The movie, partly because of the limitations of one character without a body, is just overflowing with pretty words and turns of phrase. Oftentimes it feels as if he can take liberty with his beautiful shots because they just feel like ornament to the true action going on, which is internal. They complement the scene, but never dictate it.
Coppola’s surrogate, not the main character Bill Murray but the protagonist played by ScarJo, is stuck alone in Japan with an absolute dweeb caricature of a photographer husband. He’s just too busy to really notice her and feels like he is trying to be too hip for his own skin. Coppola’s movie is built almost entirely on long silences to the point where it feels like it plays out in real time. It is the smallest physical movements, or oftentimes the silences, that provide the movie’s most powerful moments. While “Her” takes place over a longer period of time, and while it is easier to admire as an intellectual achievement, “Translation” proves elicit the more immersive, poignant experience for me.
“Her” begins with Theodore writing a love letter, but he is just putting his care into writing someone else’s story as part of his job. You can still see that it’s crafted with passion, but that this passion doesn’t transfer to his life outside. At the end of the movie, Theodore writes a letter to his ex-wife, acknowledging the mistakes he made with her and is ready to move on. It’s very hard not to put the two together. Just replace his card-writing with film-making and it’s almost complete. There’s a ton to read out of these two. What do you see? Make predictions or pick a side on this argument in the comments.
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