Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Movie Memories: Lost in Translation

In September of 2003 I was consumed with the sort of melancholy that can only set in when you are a particularly privileged seventeen-year-old. I was halfway through high school, and at this point had, quite successfully, lived the persona of the guy who didn't give a second thought to dating. It served me well as long as it did; I didn't get too broken up over missed opportunities, made a lot of friends very easily - people are quick to latch onto the carefree - and altogether was fairly pleased with myself most of the time.

The trouble is, when the girl I found myself dating in the summer of 2003, a girl I'd been quite crazy about over the preceding year and change, decided to break up with me a little before the start of the school year, I suddenly had nowhere to turn. Everyone knew me as the easygoing guy who didn't worry about anything, especially the idea of the high school relationship, so not only was I heartbroken, but completely unable to talk to anybody about it.

So I turned, in what would become a common coping mechanism in the years to come, to the movies. This was really at the cusp of when movies were taking over my life, so I started going fairly regularly, typically an early afternoon showing on a Saturday. And, for the first time, I'd go alone. I figured I watched movies by myself at home all the time; what's the difference, really? It turned out to be one of the most wonderful experiences, one I still quite enjoy but, like many things, will never quite reach the heights of those first few outings. Sitting in the dark, alone yet surrounded (well...as surrounded as one gets on Saturday afternoons), I found peace and serenity.

As Lester Bangs says in Almost Famous, true music...it chooses you. I've found the same too often true of movies, and I can't help but feel that Lost in Translation, Sofia Coppola's ode to undefineable, momentary relationships and exploring foreign countries, chose me. At the Regal Cinema inside the Pioneer Place mall here in Portland, on that Saturday afternoon in September of 2003, Lost in Translation reached out from beyond the clutter of pop culture and life and said "I'm here for you."

The whole world opened up to me. I discovered a cinema not of ideas or laughs or thrills, but of feelings. Emotions and impressions were the landscape of the film. I was introduced to people with completely different life experiences from my own, feeling exactly as I had been for the past month, asking the same sort of questions. I learned the value of simply walking and exploring. Not because it was spoken - nobody in the film had to make fun of people who use a guide book to show how wonderful it is to just go.

I learned it was possible to identify more with the woman in a movie than the man (being a straight white male, the majority of American cinema is more or less about me). There's a moment, and this is exactly what I'm talking about in saying the film's all about moments and impressions because it lasts...maybe a second, but it's the kind of breathless perfection you dream of experiencing in art. It's when John (Giovanni Ribisi) is heading out to leave his wife, Charlotte (Scarlett Johanson), alone in Tokyo while he does business in a neighboring town. He gives her a kiss goodbye, and she grabs his face, holds him for an extra second, lingering in the moment of that kiss as he's trying to be someplace else. It's simple, it's easy, but it's effective. I knew that feeling so intensely that even now it gets me a little choked up. I'm sure more than a few of you understand how closely knit your life can become to a movie.

It could have been depressing to learn that these things don't go away as we get older, that they only become more complicated; but it wasn't. It was comforting to see acceptance, and the possibility of a new surprise. It encouraged me to open up to new experiences, new people, and within a month I found myself in a platonic relationship very similar to the one depicted in the film, one in which trust and openness were everything. She moved away the following summer and I hardly ever speak to her anymore, but for a brief period of time, we had something amazing. Something that I can honestly say wouldn't have happened if not for this film.

Many movies impart certain values and life lessons; Lost in Translation taught me how to live. I know, for many, it hasn't aged well, and for many others, it never lived up to the hype. But seeing it before any of that set in, in a vacuum all my own, the movie became an inextricable part of me. And whatever problems others may find, to me it is perfect - its mysteries, its conclusions, its suggestions...most of all its suggestions.

Thanks to my lovely girlfriend Julie for the inspiration.


Chris Nye said...

thanks for this. More please.

Stephen said...

This is a beautiful post - about the power of films and the power of love.