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An Inspiring Story: Lost In Translation (2003)

Updated on April 17, 2015

Two Characters In Search Of An Author

is a "post-romantic" story, revolving around an aging actor named Bob Harris (Bill Murray) and a recent college graduate named Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) who develop a rapport after a chance meeting in a Tokyo hotel. If we remove the mask from this film, we discover a poignant allegory on the dangers of living a life without meaning.

Bob's opening scene in this movie, told in silence, encapsulates the entire motion picture. Asleep, he travels in the backseat of a taxi. He suddenly awakens to discover an imposing, vibrant, and lush city. He cranes his neck and sees himself on a billboard advertisement, fraudulently hawking an alcoholic beverage. There he is blended seamlessly within an empty, neon desert.

But Bob Harris is not the only character asleep. A stunning opening shot of Charlotte finds her in a motionless, supine position. Marginalized in a young marriage and a foreign land, she dreamily gazes out of her birdcage, hoping to one day fly.

The Space Between

A closer look at Charlotte's melancholy "drifting at sea" reveals parallels in our own lives. We too feel an inexplicable heaviness inside our chests linked to something greater, something more important than our current situation. We want to matter. We want the work of our hands to be something that connects to the heart and soul. We feel a special calling on our lives, but it remains lost in translation.

Another parallel we can draw from Charlotte's "drifting at sea" is what she experiences after college. There is an unspoken expectation on us all to have it figured out. We are supposed to pivot into a job directly related to our college degree. We are to then pivot into a marriage and children. But what happens when the epiphany for one's life does not happen between the ages of 18 to 21?

Sometimes that light bulb moment can come much later. It's the space between that oftentimes can be a hard grind, which is where we find Charlotte and Bob. Charlotte listens to self-help tapes on how to find your purpose. She gazes out of her hotel window, contemplating, adding this, subtracting that, figuring it out, and questioning it all.

What About Bob?

Bob is at a point in his life where he feels total emptiness. He has everything, but has absolutely nothing. He ends a conversation with his wife emotionally unfulfilled and without an "I love you". He is spiritually bankrupt, waking up each morning with an inexplicable sadness on his chest. The meaning of his sorrow remains lost in translation.

When Bob looks up at his advertisement billboard he sees a caricature of himself. He is a man now with a price tag. His work no longer connects to the heart and soul. Moreover, he has reached a place where he cannot connect. He and his wife are miles apart physically and emotionally.

Bob also lacks a source. He is unable to plug into something greater than himself and in turn be fed power and electricity. One of the most iconic and unforgettable shots in the film shows Bob sitting on the edge of his bed pitifully sad and abandoned. Spiritually flat, he sits there in a state of nothingness.

The Mountaintop Experience

Like Bob and Charlotte, we too have felt like birds in a cage, wanting to take back the sky and spread our wings. We have also been sitting forlornly on the edge of our beds in life, searching for a real spark to shake us from our slumber. Most importantly, we are or have been in constricting relationships, whether in a dreamless job or a significant other, that has us feeling trapped, limited, and/or unfulfilled.

In Brokeback Mountain, their hometown choked the cowhand's expression. This prosaic place choked their passion. Its rigid boundaries, structure and code, gradually wore them down to a state of living dead. Without Brokeback in their lives, they remained limited, trapped, and misunderstood.

By happenstance, Bob and Charlotte collide and find their "Brokeback mountain". They enter a feeling universe. Time slows down. They return to their original faces as children and frolic through the city, caroling, and having the time of their lives.

The Greatest Discovery

Just like in Bob's opening scene, he wakes up from a slumber to a marvelous city. That city is Charlotte: young, neon, and full of life. The chance encounter with Charlotte has suddenly given him a taste of what might have been. Through her, he clearly sees himself. Meeting Bob, has suddenly given her a taste of what might can be.

In each others company, they have a new found freedom. They are now birds carefree, flying through a city that otherwise seemed shut off to them. And just like that, they discover a new passion for life, a sudden burst of emotion, and a new fire in their chests. This allegory teaches us a great lesson. If we can find our passion in life and have the boldness to chase after, there is where true freedom lies.

Fully Alive

Bob and Charlotte might not have found the spark, but they found a spark. The spark they discovered illuminated a path to true freedom and real meaning. Their chance encounter was a signpost in the road, pointing the way.

The question remains have we seen the signpost in the road, pointing the way? Have we followed the path of our heart? Have we found the courage to follow our own unique voice?

Bob’s opening scene has him traveling along a road asleep. He then suddenly wakes up to discover an alluring city. Some of us have been traveling along a road asleep. Oftentimes, only a real spark can wake us up and open our eyes. Fully awake, a neon and vibrant world comes into focus.

There are sparks along the way that provide a glimpse of a brighter, greater tomorrow, but it might require we do something bold to escape the current dreamless situations we find ourselves in (Bruce in The Dark Knight Rises). On the mountaintop, is a life not lost in translation, a space where we can live passion first, and rightfully claim our limitless inheritance.

Lost In Translation Trailer

Does the whisper matter at the end?

Bob whispers something Charlotte at the end of the picture. Do you wish you knew what he said?

See results

© 2013 Oswalda Purcell


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    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 4 years ago from Southern Illinois

      This is a movie i most definitely want to see. I loved your review on ' Brokeback Mountain ' Thank you...

    • profile image

      Iris Karina 4 years ago

      I love those carefree birds flying through Tokyo. Great review :-)

    • Oswalda Purcell profile image

      Oswalda Purcell 4 years ago from Los Angeles

      Thank you, Iris! You've been there, which is an even bigger compliment!

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