Sofia CoppolMay: Close Scene Analysis of Lost in Translation (2003)

It wasn’t a hard choice to pick the film to focus on for Sofia CoppolMAY because I’ve only seen one of her films. Lost in Translation is widely considered her best work but I was stumped on what specific topic to focus on. I started thinking about all the different themes Lost in Translation is centred on. Loneliness, isolation both in a foreign city and in relationships, culture clashes, ideologies from the city itself and so forth. Then I thought: What a perfect film for a close scene analysis!

Before I begin, however, I want to put a warning stating THIS IS NOT HOW YOU WRITE A SCENE ANALYSIS, PROBABLY. There will be no structure, no focus, probably no conclusion. Because I want to write this organically and not mull over it for a week, this will just be an ideas explosion but that’s just how I roll.

The scene I’ve chosen is the climactic scene. Bill Harris, past-it actor, is leaving in a car to go to the airport. He is finally leaving Japan ad going back to the US. Charlotte, young American woman Bob befriends whilst he is in Japan, is walking down a street when Bob recognises her. Obviously aware the pair didn’t leave things in good terms, he runs up to her to say good bye properly. Satisfied with their interaction, Bob leaves in his car. The film ends with some shots of Tokyo accompanied by an alternative rock track.

The first thing I notice is how Charlotte and Bob are in relation to one another. There may be frames that break this pattern, I’d have to watch again more closely, but the two are nearly always on opposite sides of the screen. There are three scenes in which this springs to mind. First is the above scene  in the picture, at the hotel bar. There is also the Sushi restaurant when Charlotte and Bob have a bit of a tiff. And finally, when Charlotte knocks on Bob’s hotel room door to invite him to said Sushi restaurant and she finds out he still has a woman in his room from the night before. There’s a definite distance, a divide, a hesitancy.

Throughout the film, the audience can see that the more isolated they are from the city and the more unfulfilled they are with their romantic relationships, the more drawn they are to each other. They’re using each other as an emotional safety net, which is volatile. I think is the very reason why they still keep their guard up. The age gap and fact they are both straight people of opposite genders getting closer to one another is a dangerous path. They don’t want to admit they care for one another more than might seem normal, but they clearly do.

Hence, in the final scene when Bob says goodbye to Charlotte, he breaks his guard by embracing her and stroking her hair in an intimate way, just as she buries her head in his shoulder. The tenderness that has so far been constricted to looks, in moments, is out for all to see. This is displayed in extreme close-ups where both bodies inhibit nearly the entire frame, except for the fast paced walking of the many, many Japanese people around them. The pair don’t acknowledge anyone else. They may as well be the only two there, they have learnt to cut out the city completely.

The pair’s interaction with the city is interesting. We mainly see the many skyscrapers of Tokyo through Charlotte and Bob’s big hotel windows. Prominent shots include Bob is shaving in front of his mirror and Charlotte is leaning against the window. The imposing buildings take up most of the frame. But the characters merely do more than stare at buildings from a distance. The city is largely viewed through car and train windows. Always at a distance. Interactions with Japanese people are always incredibly awkward and embarrassing. In the final scene, I feel that the characters could be anywhere, which is interesting. Lost in Translation itself, is an inherent lack of understanding and a complete failure to grasp something. It may be spoken right in front of us, but if we don’t understand it, we may as well hear nothing.

During the embrace, Bob then whispers something inaudible into Charlotte’s ear. This relates to what I’ve just said. If we can’t understand it, it may as well not have been said to us at all. And how frustrating and isolating it is to be constantly surrounded by things we do not have the scope to bring meaning to. Perhaps that’s what Coppola’s intentions were not letting us hear what Bob says to Charlotte. By leaving the audience in the dark, she is leaving them unable to understand and she is leaving them lost in translation.

As we leave the city, neon signs with the Japanese language are splattered all over tall, grey and drab buildings. Are we supposed to understand? In this crazy world, we might forge a friendship with the most unlikely of people in the most unlikely of places. It may be beyond our understanding of how and why these things happen, but sometimes we need to accept the craziness of this world, let down our guard and open ourselves up to the possibilities of speaking a new language.

Have you ever seen Lost in Translation? Do you love it as much as I do?

This feature is a series of posts run by French Toast Sunday. If you want to read last month’s entry on Alfonso Cuaron click here.

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  1. I like your free-flowing analysis! This is a really poignant ending to the film, but also endlessly frustrating. I’ve actually looked up a video that slows it down and seems to reveal the words spoken, but it does take away the impact of the scene. You’re totally right that the whole point of the film is that line being lost in translation like everything else the plot revolves around.

    • Oh definitely frustrating, but I’m weirdly okay with that given the point of the film, I’m okay with it… Very unique in that sense though, were it any other film, I’d just be pure frustrated! And I’m totally not surprised someone did that, I would really like it to be something like “shall we get burgers after this?” 😉

  2. Now, I’m not a fan of Sophia.. I find her movies too slow paced for my taste. It probably just reminds me too much of Estonian cinema where a lot of the “meaning” is translated through wordless frames, walking, images of things and it just doesn’t suit my esthetic.

    I liked the analysis, and there is a sort of a conclusion there, I mean the lost in translation thought is pretty much what it is all about I think. I saw this ages ago but I do remember the distance in the movie. Not just between the characters but also with the viewer.. I think we never really got to know either of the characters, which is probably why I don’t remember the movie that much.

    • Yeah, I’ve not said anything that anyone hasn’t said before but I don’t think it’s too hard a movie to pick apart anyway once you get started. To be honest I saw the film ages ago and forgot what happened, but it was the feeling it gave me more than anything that stayed with me the most. It’s the only film I’ve seen of hers so I’m not really the best placed person to comment on her haha 🙂