Has anyone done baffled disenchantment and bone-weary melancholy as brilliantly as Bill Murray in Sofia Coppola’s achingly beautiful, wonderfully droll and dreamily sad Lost In Translation?
Murray is Bob Harris, a Hollywood film star, in Tokyo to shoot a whiskey commercial. When we first meet him, he’s just arrived in Japan. He seems smirking, flippant, a condescending prick. We soon discover, however, that Bob’s world is a diminished place. He’s lonely, adrift: his movie career is faltering, the parts not coming to him like they used to, and his marriage is becalmed?his wife someone he no longer knows well enough to talk to, prone to faxing him carpet samples for an opinion she’s not really interested in.
Unable to sleep, Bob spends the dismal early hours in the hotel bar where he meets Scarlett Johansson’s Charlotte?much younger, newly married, but similarly lost, abandoned to restless introspection by her husband, a celebrity photographer, here on an exotic assignment from which she is entirely excluded.
Bob and Charlotte are drawn together by loneliness, boredom, a sense of futility, a need for uncomplicated affection, the attention of someone who cares.
Anyone with a taste only for the noise and commotion of most modern movies will probably be somewhat puzzled by what happens next, because nothing really does. Which isn’t the same thing as saying Lost In Translation is uneventful. In fact, it’s packed with incident?and a lot of its scenes have become classics of their kind for the film’s fans: Bob’s growing bewilderment during the filming of the whiskey ad, a karaoke party where Murray sings Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding” and Roxy Music’s “More Than This” and Johansson vamps to The Pretenders’ “Brass In Pocket”, Bob waiting for Charlotte in a hospital waiting room, Bob battling with an exercise machine.
Coppola’s screenplay doesn’t have to be explicit about Bob’s jaded desperation. It’s all in Murray’s face, the crumpled sag and hanging droop of sallow skin, the somnambulant stare, the wistful gaze: the sense of something missing in his life that he’s beginning to feel nothing now will fill. It’s a magnificent performance that doesn’t seem like acting at all?which is probably why this year’s Oscar for Best Actor went to Sean Penn for his noisy turn in Mystic River?and is one of many reasons to cherish this extraordinary film.