Friday, June 17, 2011

Travel-related sleep deprivation? Check.

If you were wondering why it's been over a week since I posted on The Audient -- which I think may be the longest drought in the history of the blog -- it's because I've been out of town. My friend got married in Annapolis, MD this past Saturday, and to take full advantage of visiting a region of the country my wife had never visited (Washington D.C. in particular), we tacked on two days before and three days afterward.

So that meant that our baby had lots of time to be on the wrong schedule and deprive us (and himself) of sleep.

Actually, he was on the right schedule but in the wrong part of the country. Whereas he'd usually got to sleep around 6:30 in LA, he wasn't tired until 9:30 or 10 in Maryland. Makes sense, but it made for two difficult babysitting nights for my mom (who drove down from Massachusetts) on the night of the wedding and the night before. And yeah, he couldn't really stay asleep for long in the unfamiliar setting of our hotel, meaning we had him in bed with us much earlier in the night than usual, and there were a lot of awakenings. Let's just say everybody spent a lot of the time feeling bleary-eyed.

Which made Lost in Translation the perfect movie to watch on the trip.

I'd seen it before, of course. In fact, I'd guess that this was my fourth viewing. But the first three all came within two years of its release, and it had been almost six years since I'd seen it, though it doesn't feel like that long.

We watched it on our last night, sitting in the chairs on the other side of the sliding door from our room, in the little courtyard that makes up the center portion of the Courtyard by Marriott in Annapolis. My portable DVD player came in handy on the trip, as it was used twice by us and twice by mom, another movie buff.

The movie is of course about that weird half-awake state of jet lag -- not entirely, but its first 30 minutes are devoted to that in one way or another. My favorite sequence in a film that I dearly love may be the very beginning, when Bill Murray's Bob Harris, riding in his taxi from the Tokyo airport, rubs his eyes and looks out at a glittering, marvelously foreign cityscape, really for the first time. The look in his eyes is equal parts awe, confusion and sleepiness. We've all been there. (Plus, Sofia Coppola picked a perfect song to accompany this moment on the soundtrack -- "Girls" by Death in Vegas. So ethereal.)

However, as is often the case when you revisit a movie you love, you discover things about it you hadn't considered previously ... maybe not all of which you love. Here were my new discoveries on this viewing of Lost in Translation:

1) The timeline is kind of goofy. I may have noticed this previously, and was reminded of it all the more this time. Namely, Bob Harris seems to be in Tokyo a lot more days than he needs to be, especially since it's a lot more days than he wants to be. From previous viewings of the film, I had this idea that he met Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) on something like his second night in town, and started hanging with her soon after that. Really, it's only on his fourth night or so that he finally has a real conversation with her. I actually wanted to go back and re-watch the movie on fast forward to count the number of nights, but it's been busy since I've gotten home and I want to get this post up. But during the movie itself I decided that I would consider their first night hanging out, the karaoke night, to be Wednesday night, relative to what I knew would eventually become a Sunday departure. This turns out to be the case, as they start out at the strip club on Thursday night, and Bob sleeps with the lounge singer on Friday night, leading to their awkward lunch on Saturday before Bob's eventual departure on Sunday. The thing that doesn't seem to make sense is that he was originally supposed to leave on Thursday, but agrees to extend his visit -- in order to spend more time with Charlotte, but ostensibly so he can go on that goofy talk show on Friday. However, by my calculation he actually agrees to extend the visit after he was supposed to have left. Oh well, it's hardly something worth holding Coppola responsible for. I guess we won't quibble too much with the fact that Bob arrived on Saturday for two photo shoots that take place within the first two days, and was still supposed to be there until Thursday.

2) Bob's personal details are kind of goofy. Bob says he's been married for 25 years. That detail alone does not entirely seem to go with him, with a movie star of his stature -- that kind of thing is pretty rare. But then his wife, just from her voice, sounds a lot younger than him, and it's clear that their kids seem to be younger than 10. So he was married to his wife for 15 years before finally having children? It just doesn't quite add up.

3) The literal meaning of the title. All these years I have kind of thought that the words "lost in translation" related to Charlotte's observations of Japanese culture -- the giant digital dinosaur that walks along the side of a building, the people who shoot laser BBs from toy guns, the guy in the arcade who interfaces with the video game via an electric guitar (remember, this was before Guitar Hero came into our lives). Many of these things only make sense in a Japanese context, and Charlotte observes them with a wonder born of not quite understanding. However, this time through I recognized that the title has a very literal meaning, specifically related to the Japanese director trying to communicate with Bob on the Santori whiskey shoot. He spouts 60 seconds worth of words in Japanese, and Bob's translator gives him about ten seconds worth of English translation. Bob is understandably confused by this, assuming that some of the subtlety of what the director is saying is literally lost in the translation. I prefer my original interpretation of the title over this literal one, but it doesn't damage my appreciation of the film in any way.

4) This isn't a made connection - it's a missed one. My wife had the same impression I did from previous viewings, which is that Bob and Charlotte have a really profound soul connection and share a montage worth of cute moments together. Really, that's not true. They basically have one really great night, and flail in their attempt to recreate it. The movie's centerpiece in terms of their relationship is of course the night they go to a party, meet Charlotte's friends, are chased out of the party by guys with BB guns that shoot lasers, end up back at someone's apartment and then ultimately finish by singing karaoke until dawn in a private room at a karaoke club.

This is the equivalent of those great nights we've all had where we went into an evening, with no idea about where it was going to go, and emerged feeling satisfied well beyond our own ability to describe it by all the things we saw and people we met. The truth about every night like this is that when you try to recreate it, it's not even in the same ballpark. Coppola hits us with this reality straight away. The next night, Bob meets Charlotte out at some kind of avant-garde strip club, where all the Japanese hipsters who seemed so enlightened the night before are lost in lap dances. They leave, but have no other real activity planned. We only see them crossing a busy street and later returning to the hotel. During the night they meet again to talk and watch Japanese TV over room service, which is where they start to get into talking about personal lives and life philosophies. In a different way, this becomes a second really great night, different from the first but still very meaningful. They come as close as they get to a sexual interaction here, as Charlotte's feet are lightly touching Bob's side, and he rests his hand on them. That's it.

The next day, Bob agrees to stay in Japan through the weekend, goes on this weird-ass talk show, then ultimately sleeps with the lounge singer. It's so much more common that we don't do the right things at the right times than that we do, and I think this sequence of events and its aftermath really captures that. At Bob's door the next morning, Charlotte hears the lounge singer in Bob's room, leaves in a huff, and shares an awkward lunch with him later on. Them seeing each other in the middle of the night after the fire alarm goes off is that perfect surreal realization that everything has gotten screwed up. It's not enough not to see this person again, with whom you almost connected. No, you have to see them at 1 a.m. after the fire alarm went off, in bathrobes with mussed-up hair, in this confusing tease of a situation that cruelly reminds you of what could have happened.

Of course, Bob and Charlotte get a redemption of sorts by having a less-awkward farewell, then the amazing scene where he spots her from the cab and runs up to kiss her and whisper in her ear. (I understand you can use modern technology to amplify the volume and hear what he says, but I don't want to, nor do I want to google it.) This sort of unlikely denouement (how did she get out into the crowds of Tokyo only moments after seeing him back at the hotel?) gives us the emotional payoff we need, but we shouldn't be confused that they had some great almost-romance. It was a missed connection more than a made connection, which is why it takes so long to get going (I actually felt myself getting stressed out, wanting for them to finally connect) and is over pretty much as quickly as it began.

Lest you be confused, however, this is not a criticism of the film. I actually think the more melancholy it is, the more unsatisfying it is in terms of a traditional Hollywood romantic arc, the more it speaks to me -- the more real it is.

And that's all the realism I have time for today. Still trying to catch up with all the emails people sent me while I was gone, even after a full day back at work.

No comments: