Thursday, December 11, 2014

Looking for an Accomplice

"I'm looking for, like, an accomplice. We have to first get out of this bar, then the hotel, then the city, and then the country. Are you in or you out?"
The best movies are those which give middle-aged adults a reason to keep re-watching them.

Lost in Translation is one of those kinds of movies. It’s a classic, or it will be one day.

I mean no disrespect to the young by saying that middle-aged adults are better judges of cinematic greatness, because I miss being The Young, especially when it comes to movies. I miss having so much free time that I could sit in a movie theater and watch the same movie twice in a row. I miss going to Blockbuster on a Friday afternoon, renting five movies “for the weekend” and watching all of them before dinnertime on Saturday. I miss waiting for the Oscar nominations knowing that I would have seen every single one of the Best Picture candidates as well as most of the ones in the running for the other big awards.

When I was young I could watch even shitty movies over and over. My friends and I would watch movies just to make fun of them. The fact that I’ve seen Weekend At Bernie’s II more than once, and Halloween III more than once, and Runaway with Tom Selleck more than once, is only proof that I was once young and wild and free and stupid.

Nowadays, I’m lucky to see two movies that will be Oscar contenders before they can be rented. And after they can be rented, I’m lucky to see two more. My annual theater visits have become agonizingly predictable and limited, and it has for years broken down like this: two superhero movies, one suspense/thriller, one non-superhero summer blockbuster, one eventual Oscar candidate, and a handful of movies with my kids.

But even with my limited time, when a single movie can require two or three evenings, portioned in micro-doses between the time after the kids and wife go to bed and the time when I can no longer keep my lids peeled, I’ve seen Lost in Translation five or six times, and it remains a sublime experience.

It is at once a fairy tale and all too real, a fantasy and a statement of harsh realities. Every viewing changes my mind about whether it’s a movie that taps into a man’s deepest yearnings or a woman’s. Or neither.

Here are things I noticed or thought for the first time when I watched it last week:
  • When Bob sits in the hospital waiting for Charlotte, having a non-conversation with a babbling old Japanese lady, two women sitting in the waiting room with them cannot stop cracking up. It's like an SNL skit that's funny on its own but funnier because those ladies are caught in a Giggle Loop.
  • Several scenes of Charlotte moping in her hotel room reveal, in the window reflection, others in the room.
  • The vibe between this and “Before Sunrise” is dazzlingly similar, except LiT has a May-December thing going on.
  • Bob sleeps with the lounge singer because he loves Charlotte enough not to sleep with her. Perhaps you think that is pathetic and inexcusable reasoning, but that doesn’t make Bob's motives for himself untrue. (Notice how the first time he is propositioned, he does everything he can to politely but confidently reject the offers. Notice how the first time folks try to make small talk with him in the bar, he dismisses them. And then, suddenly, he sleeps with the cheesy lounge singer.)
  • Does Charlotte’s husband love her, or does he just love the idea of her, like I love the idea of sitting by a fire much more than I actually love sitting by fires? Am I supposed to dislike the guy as much as I do? Because I wanna punch that dude. Twice.
  • Is falling instantly in love with someone else something that happens because of personal turmoil or because it just sometimes happens?
  • Scarlett Johansson really is all that and a bag of adorable, smoldering BBQ chips, and I can’t stop looking at her every second she exists on that screen, but she has very few opportunities in this movie to really push her acting talent.
The ultimate question, however, is which character is the central figure? Whose fantasy is the more central fantasy? Because, ultimately, the course of true love never did run smooth, and stories of doomed romance never break 50/50.

On the last viewing, I decided it’s really Bob’s story. The opening scene -- of Charlotte’s back in repose on her hotel bed, pink sheer panties daring you not to look at her butt -- is about the male fantasy. The closing scene is of Bob walking away, having proven his adoration via his self-control, a flawed but noble attempt at expressing a more complicated sort of affection than mere lust or romantic curiosity.

But I’ll watch it again in a year or two. I’ll catch more stuff I hadn’t noticed before. And I’ll keep asking questions for which there is no clear answer. Because that’s what the best movies do to us, and for us.

1 comment:

troutking said...

Interesting point you make. Indeed there are lots of movies I watched several times that didn't deserve the attention. And many many movies that I watched once that didn't deserve even that. Yet I didn't seem to mind it. Watching a movie was pretty fun no matter how bad it was. Now a bad movie is a "waste of time." Is that because we have less free time or is it because back then any free time where we could do what we wanted was valued? Is it because we have a more developed need to judge whether something is good or not? I know there is also music I loved in the 80s that I can't enjoy any more. Is that more developed sense of taste? A more refined palate? Is that always a good thing?