By: A Bright Wall in a Dark Room
I saw Lost in Translation once, years ago, and really loved it. Loved it in the quiet, deep sort of way you love books you only read once. at a very particular time in your life. and don’t really think or speak of much ever again.
Re-watching it now, though, I find myself less forgiving of it, at least initially. Irritated that Charlotte and Bob need this dalliance, which is far less innocent than I remembered it being. What I had once cataloged in my memory as nuanced, wanting looks that went forever unacted upon were. in actuality. elevator kisses and sultry karaoke songs sung to each other, with pointed meaning and drunken swaying hips.
But then again, it isn’t much more than that—not much more than a teenage caper formed to pass a few echoey days in an electric city one million miles from home. And so I forgive them, Bob and Charlotte. I forgive them again this time and then already again for the next time I watch it, in another decade or so. Because we have been there too.
What I mostly loved about Lost in Translation the first time around, I think, was the gaps. It is a movie defined by what is missing. The quiet spaces and the unspoken words and even the now-classic final scene. The whispered farewell between Bob and Charlotte that we’re not asked or allowed to hear.
Do you remember this? There are entire websites devoted to analyzing and breaking down what Bob says to Charlotte in the film’s final moments, his aging cheek pressed to hers – soft and taut and flawless as a whole lifetime left before you.
I really love that Sofia Coppola never told us. I want something in all this to remain pure. If it must be a secret, then so be it.
And that’s the beauty of the entire movie, really – its sort of Japanese elegance. What it invites and never forces. The line that it toes.
I am a person who could never not say what is in my guts, my overactive mind, my thumping chest. And here is this whole entire poised world. This Asian fairy tale told in elaborate gift-giving greetings and techno club dances, the subtleties of marital jousting and the choreography of old black-and-white movies amidst an insomniac’s midnight panic. The drunk-making mystery of friendship with just slightly too much more.
Give in to where you are. This might be my best travel advice and my greatest travel challenge. There is so much for a human being to fear. Not in hiking through Malian outback alone, not in forging the medinas and the subways and the canals. It’s the connection. Understanding how to insert yourself into the stream of human connection when there is so much potential for misstep. The rapids you misunderstand and the pace to which you are unaccustomed. The depth for which you are unprepared. And ultimately, the possibility that you will be rejected – heaved back out upon the shore.
Approaching a stranger on a train or online is not just that thing; It is everything. It is risking it all – gambling against rejection, wagering love that may spend itself down to the loneliest fibers. Risking that despite it all, knowing we may end up alone.
And that’s why you can forgive Bob and Charlotte.
Because in a wild city that doesn’t belong to you, a million literal or figurative miles from your partner, you might change. It might take something different than you think to keep on keeping on. And even if you, like Charlotte and Bob, hold on to your promises and moral fiber, you still might need to surrender to the moment. Find someone’s hand to hold and run the streets with them until you forget everything. Until you can make yourself go home again.
Just like travel, we often enter into love for far different reasons than we choose to remain in that country. We change, they change. What we want changes. We learn them too well, the illusion burns off, they stop needing us, we let them down.
Somehow, we drift apart and there is an incredible loneliness in the indecision over whether we’ll choose to paddle after each other or not.
Sometimes it takes work to love a country. Most times, it’s never what you thought it would be and you have to decide if you can just let it be what it is, and love it fiercely anyway.