Monday, February 02, 2004

bookends, part I

We saw two movies this weekend. And while they completely different in style and audience interest, these films explored different sides of the the same topic: love and commitment.

The first was Sofia Coppola's Lost In Translation, a claustrophobic story of two Americans trapped in Tokyo in a hotel for a week. One is a Burt Reynolds type actor played by Bill Murray, known for his successful action movies in the 1970s. He is in Japan to make commericials for his celebrity endorsement of a whiskey label. The other is the young and quite intelligent Scarlett Johansson, a recent college grad who has joined her husband, a celebrity photographer played by Giovanni Ribisi.

Murray and Johansson, separated by age, find themselves bewildered and isolated by Tokyo, metaphors for their relationships. Murray's wife continues to send him faxes and Fed-Ex packages about decisions for her redecoration of his study while their phone conversations reveal that they have long given up honest communication with each other. Ribisi speaks the language of the celebrities that he shoots, and while their marriage is only two years old, one wonders how they ever connected.

All the lighting is flat, and unenhanced. In fact, the hotel is made quite dark. Even the brilliant lights of downtown Tokyo appear muted and distant. Most of Murray and Johansson's meetings take place in the hotel bar at night where an American lounge band give inflated performances of pop standards, the most fun being the singer's dramatic and heavy ending of Simon and Garfunkel's Scarborough Fair.

The story wanders through their lives together and apart, and while some sexual tension is present, this is mostly about two souls finding comfort and companionship. They don't really understand how they got where they are, they certainly don't understand Japan. It is the looks on their faces that we watch, and both are quite interesting faces to watch. Murray particularly is adept at mugging, and we see him do this in shooting the television commercial. At one point, he is asked to look what he finally understands is a "rat pack" pose, and one has to smile, given Murray's mocking of this exact look back in his SNL days. But when he is alone or looking at Johansson, he is not mugging.

Coppola takes a long time to explore these two, worrying less about story arc than in nailing down their lostness. The epiphany is small, much like the one in Joyce's story The Dead, a bit cynical and sad and perhaps even misunderstood.

No comments: