Saturday, April 07, 2007

Ephemerality in Movies and Life

One promise that D.C. residents make to transplants is that the spring and fall are beautiful and for those bursts of pink blossoms and golden leaves it is worth it to weather the stultifyingly humid summer and "cold" winter. Spring here is indeed beautiful but poignantly fleeting. Those famed cherry blossoms are here one minute, gone the next. I waded through the fallen flowers twice this week under the grove of those still attached to their trees and thought a bit about transience (while I wasn't busy ducking out of the way of family photos).

I finally saw Lost in Translation, which tells a story about transience. The relationship between Charlotte (Scarlett Johanssen) and Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is impossibly pure, the age discrepancy is almost an afterthought, because both characters are themselves fully aware of it, especially Bob. One of my favorite illustrations of this is the overhead shot of Bob lying stick straight on his back in his hotel bed while Charlotte is rolled over on her left shoulder, knees bent towards her stomach, facing in towards Bob. Yet, Charlotte and Bob go no further; their relationship remains innocent, a meeting of two people yearning for something that goes even beyond the other. In a way, Bob is just as much a model to Charlotte as he is a potential mate--especially as it becomes clear that their union is short-lived. He has navigated through the apathy that Charlotte presently faces and has appreciated those moments of meaning, as he reveals when he recounts the day his first child was born the "most terrifying day" of his life.

Lost in Translation to me had the feel of a mature rendition of the themes in The Graduate. Where in the latter, Dustin Hoffman's brilliantly-played Benjamin Braddock single-mindedly set out to win the affection of Elaine Robinson (Katharine Ross) so that it became an end in itself, Bob's sense of the transitory nature of affection hovers around his interactions with Charlotte. This is of course attributable to his age: he has seen his marriage harden from affection to indifference at best, coldness at worst. The iconic scene in The Graduate where Benjamin and Elaine flee her wedding ceremony and collapse on the bus, destination unknown, is the end of spring, the end of cherry blossoms--forgive this sap--but it is the end of romance and the realization of romanticization. To see hopefulness and plaintiveness so effortlessly merge in film is to experience the end of spring.


Chris said...

Lost in Translation made me never want to visit Tokyo, just because of all of the shots of the masses of people. It gives one a sense of uncanny isolation amongst crowds of people...kind of like the silence that pervades Metro stations in the morning. Today's Washington Post has an article about world-renowned (I hate that term but it fits here) violinist Joshua Bell who played at L'Enfant Plaza Metro station for an hour recently. Hardly anyone stopped to listen and only one person realized who it was who was playing. Think about about how much we miss in a single day as we go about our busy lives. We're so focused on the future or obsessed about the past (for whatever reason) that we completely forget about the present..and before we stop to think about it, it's already past.

Elaine said...

I totally agree, Chris. Lost in Translation frequently reminded me of the most isolating moments in my own study abroad experience. Imagine if I had studied abroad in Tokyo! That story about Joshua Bell is so amazing and yet so believable. I often wonder why our culture is one that is so indifferent or even hostile to stopping to smell the roses. Reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from the 1947 movie The Bishop's Wife, said by the friendly cab driver, Sylvester: "The main trouble is there are too many people who don't know where they're going and they want to get there too fast!"