Sofia Coppola is brilliant, and her 2003 movie Lost in Translation (LiT) is virtually epic, both from a cinematic and philosophical point of view.
For the last 24 hours I have not been able to do anything except laud what Coppola did in the film. In one fell swoop Coppola spoofs your typical romantic comedy and slaps the existential philosopher Jean Paul Sarte in the face.
I love it mainly because the movie preaches and is theologically pregnant. To be sure, it is not for the faint of heart. It is a movie that the entertainment seeker may quickly turn off. Though it stars Bill Murray, who is normally associated with levity and fun, the overarching tone is rather depressing.
That's mainly because of the message it communicates. Coppola essentially makes a movie out of the book of Ecclesiastes. LiT, from begining to end, decries, "Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless."
LiT presents us with two characters who attempt everything within their vain power to bring meaning to a meaningless life. Beautifully, their attempts fail.
The first half of the flick depicts the existential malaise. The two main characters (Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson) are set in the vast sea of metropolitan Tokyo with no means of communication with the foreign culture. The screen shots of tall buildings and large crowds underscore the "I'm just a clog in the wheel" feel.
It quickly becomes apparent that the two are not only lost in a foreign culture, but are much estranged from their families and careers. This enhanced sense of loneliness creates a contemplative feeling of "Why am I here?"
As you delve into Bob's life you find that he has the prospective of reflection. He is a washed up actor whose fame and fortune have brought him nothing of real significance in life.
Charlotte, by contrast, stands on the front end of life. Her perspective though, is not much different. Despite having just earned a degree in philosophy she is obviously floundering as to her purpose. In desperation she picks up a book entitled, "Soul Search" to help her discover what she is to do in life. (The irony is thick here as the main study of a philosophy student is supposedly 'the meaning of life.')
The two eventually decide to go out on the town and attempt to bring meaning to the meaninglessness of their lives. In keeping with the romantic comedy plot, one expects a bond to form here. Yet, one strains to call it that. Their relationship remains very much platonic--almost a meaningless distance.
The night on the town is a good time, but barely so. One cannot escape the feeling of meaninglessness. Despite the opportunity to indulge in the pleasures of life, they continue to have expressionless faces which cry out "This too is vanity." Even their stop in a stripper club affirms this. The scene, though sensual, is far from erotic. One feels the emptiness of it.
The final stop of their night on the town finds them in a room doing karaoke. Charlotte sings the words "I'm special," but being that it is karaoke (a form of music that is typically not taken seriously) you conclude "Special? Who's to say that we're special?"
In the final scene Bob is driving to the airport to go back to America. He see Charlotte in the midst of the crowd and stops the car to run after her. Here we feel ourselves following the romantic comedy plot line. We expect them to consummate their relationship with a kiss never to part again.
However, such is only a ploy. The story jumps from the romantic comedy tracks and virtually makes fun of it. Bob embraces Charlotte and whispers in her ear (yet it is "empty" because the audience is not permitted to hear it). They kiss, and do so passionately. Yet it essentially means nothing for they part. That which was supposed to symbolize their union is itself meaningless for the two "lovers" (if you can call them that) part ways. They proceed back to their meaningless existences, as if to tell us that the relationship itself was void of anything significant.
So what makes the movie so epic? It is this: John Paul Sarte was an existentialist philosopher. He believed that man, having no spiritual significance, was born into a meaningless existence. Yet he said that in view of the meaninglessness, one must choose to create meaning. He must set his destiny and do his best to overcome the meaninglessness.
In this film Coppola says, "Bunk!" She understands that choosing to make meaning out of a meaningless life is still meaningless. If it is meaningless, it is meaningless and nothing can change that.
Why did I like it, you ask? Because Coppola exposes the despair that existentialism naturally ought to produce: Without God, all is meaningless. In the end, you simply fade into oblivion (as Coppola depicts in having the main character drive off into the lost sea of the metropolis).
While it most likely was not her objective, Coppola implicitly affirms the need for a Christian worldview. Meaning and significance can only be obtained through a Creator God, who endows a person with basic dignity and establishes meaning for life.
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