Lost In Translation - Existential Drama

Thoughts On: Lost In Translation (2003)

Two lonesome married individuals meet and befriend each other in Tokyo.

Lost In Translation is an exquisite film, one that not only looks gorgeous, but is paced near-perfectly (one or two sequences drag a little) with such subtle, yet rich, characterisation. An in such, Lost In Translation falls into a class of film that often proves difficult to pull off. This is what we may refer to as an existential drama, a story that is entirely focus on the inner conflicts of our protagonists. However, instead of focusing on huge existential questions that snowball into intense drama, tears, hatred, destruction and decimation, Lost In Translation explores subtle, gnawing attributes of life that are difficult to talk about without being pretentious. This narrative is then about a lost sense of purpose as attached to relationships.

A crucial element of this topic that Lost In Translation does so well in handling is the hurdle of unattractive mundanity. In such, the existential problems of meaninglessness that can pervade the lives of the well-off, which are depicted in this narrative, not only seem trivial when we consider the more dire circumstances that millions of people face every day, but they also have the potential to be common in all people. This leaves this topic of meaninglessness as one that is unattractive, relative to more pressing conflicts in the world, and one that is pretty banal or mundane. However, because of the universal nature of this problem, shouldn't it be one that we all relate to despite the fact that there are greater problems in the world? I suppose the answer is maybe, and this film proves that there is a manner in which these issues can be articulated without seeming petty. But, that pettiness is difficult to manage - which is what leaves this film such an impressive one. This is because, regardless of the universal nature of meaninglessness as an existential problem, there is very little to be said about it. We see this throughout Lost In Translation through the sheer fact that the deep-rooted problems that Charlotte and Bob face are never really discussed or explored in much depth, only ever displayed. In turn, we never see Bob argue with his wife about the fact that he feels isolated and would somehow like to work with her to find a better place and sense of purpose in their family circle. Moreover, we never see Charlotte discuss the fact that she would like to be of greater significance in her husband's life with him.

A significant part of Lost In Translation is then this articulatory and existential constipation, one that leaves our characters wordless and, for lack of a better word, lost in the face of their problems. And I believe this perfectly outlines why this film is called 'Lost In Translation'; not only are these inner conflicts lost on the channels of communication somewhere between husbands and wives, but purpose itself has not revealed itself in the lives of all concerned. What Lost In Translation is then indirectly about is the lack of an articulate and meaningful structure at the foundations of our character's lives. Without much of a religious, philosophical, ideological or spiritual crutch, all of our characters then have no idea what to do with their marriages, nor do they know how to begin managing their lives. And this is certainly one of the most daunting issues that people seem to be facing in the modern age - and in a different capacity to eras beforehand. Whilst we have a diverse world-wide network of communications, we often use these innumerable channels for meaningless folly. Consider, for example, the role that T.V has played in society over the past 60+ years. Never has it been widely considered a box of learning and development, rather, entertainment (despite interesting pieces of culture, the news and documentaries that find their way onto television). We find a similar thing with the internet. However, whilst the internet is primarily used for banal things, it is an incredible tool that we all often use for greater purposes - whether it be to simply Google something you didn't know or to commit to developing yourself and life somehow over the internet. So, whilst there is meaning and higher purpose to be found in our new world of communications, media entities found on T.V and the internet are rarely heralded for their existential guidance.

It's this predicament that underlies Lost In Translation; meaninglessness is so ripe and ready to consume people and we often don't have the tools to combat this. There is, however, meaning to be found in one another and in the intermittence of the new. This is an idea encapsulated by Bob and Charlotte's friendship, one that has undertones of a romance that never fully flourishes. Much like entertainment, love and relationships can lift us from the currents of time that lead us towards an implication of a pre-determined fate or destiny. However, there is a clear difference in the quality of entertainment and love, and that seems to be predicated on and rooted in our biological make-up; we find greater purpose in one another rather than in distractions or entertainment. This is why there is such a precious sentiment imbued throughout Bob and Charlotte's relationship; despite perceived meaningless, despite inarticulable inner conflicts, when they are together, there is an understanding connection that lifts them away from their worldly problems. This then leaves Lost In Translation to be one of the most intricate and touching assessments of the relationship between time and romance, one that has us find solace in love as a shield from insurmountable existential drama.

On a lasting note, Lost In Translation, at its core, seems to be a story about being trapped and wanting to escape. The trap that our characters, that all people, are in is what we may refer to as life; it is the reality of being a conscious human on Earth. With our cage comes conflicts such as meaninglessness, hopelessness and isolation. These conflicts cannot be quashed as they seem to define the rules of our reality; we are not born biologically tethered to the love of our lives and instilled with ultimate knowledge, purpose and meaning. This leaves people searching for an escape, which translates to the construction of our own meaning and the development and nourishing of loving, purposeful relationships. But, whilst being told this is one thing, pursuing it is another, and so there is no end to this movie, there is only a 100 minute cinematic window through which two characters, maybe ourselves, are lifted away from reality with some hopefully meaningful entertainment.

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