Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Sentimentality of Isolation

Lost in Translation (2003) is a movie about two people dealing with the disappointment and loneliness present in their lives. Bob and Charlotte meet in Japan, a country where they don’t speak the native language and where they are separated from their spouses. Bob is an old movie star and Charlotte is a recently graduated philosophy major, and neither one is satisfied with what their life currently is. Bob is in Japan for business. He is being paid to represent a whiskey, which involves commercials, photos, and going on programs to promote the product. The film follows him through these experiences and instills a sense of loneliness through its imagery. Parallel to this is Charlotte’s story. She is a young wife of a photographer who is in Japan to photograph a band. Even when he’s around it seems he’s leaving her on her own. When they talk, it is clear they are not really communicating. Eventually he goes for a few days to shoot on location, leaving Charlotte on her own.
In Platinga’s essay Spectator Emotion and Ideological Film Criticism, he refutes the idea that an emotional response to film is something to be ignored so that you may use only reason to understand the film. Platinga puts forth the cognitive perspective on emotion. He claims that the emotional experience relies on the previous experience of that spectator. He presents a case for the agency of both the spectator and film in the creation of emotional responses.
Romantic comedies and horror films are well known examples of the manipulation of the spectator’s emotions. They use very specific music and images to produce the correct feelings for the plot. This engages the viewer and results in their commitment to the characters. People often feel that the homogeneity of the manipulations these films employ is a major flaw in our culture. We mass produce films with the same songs, plots, and characters. However, Lost in Translation (2003) is not one of these standard romantic comedies.
Lost in Translation (2003) employs several techniques to produce sentiment in the spectator. The beginning of the movie follows the two main characters as they deal with their environment. By setting the movie in Japan, where the two main characters stick out like sore thumbs, the viewer is already conditioned to be considering the topic of loneliness and isolation. These are emotions that most everyone has felt at some point, and so by making our characters foreigners the film produces a very visible representation of loneliness even in a sea of people. This is used to condition the spectator, so that later when it becomes clear that the real problem is that in their everyday lives these two characters feel loneliness and isolation , even with the ones they love.
I found it very interesting that while Lost in Translation (2003) purposefully created a romantic relationship, they did not equate this with sex. In so many movies focused on romance, they equate love with sex. However in Lost in Translation (2003), they focus on companionship and understanding. This is further emphasized by the overall sense of loneliness and isolation that pervades the film. This allows the spectator to root for their love without having to go against their morals. The married status of these characters makes a sexual love problematic, but by not sexualizing their relationship, the spectator can appreciate and be fully invested in it. Bob’s affair with the red-haired singer furthers this point, their relationship clearly superficial though sexual.
Unlike most romance movies, Lost in Translation (2003) does not use Aristophanes’ view on love from Plato’s The Symposium to outline the story. There are no two perfect halves finding each other in this love story. The two main characters are in committed relationships. In a more typical movie, their unhappiness in their marriages would be replaced the happiness inherent in finding their true match, the true second half of their soul. However, that is not what Charlotte and Bob find in each other. They find companionship and friendship. They find an escape from their isolation. They find love in each other, but we do not get the impression that they are each other’s second halves.  They do not leave their spouses for each other. They do not make plans to see each other. They found understanding and peace within their relationship in a time when they felt isolation. They are a necessary part of each other’s story, but their relationship was necessarily brief. The truthfulness found in their love suggests that the myth of a second half may be just a myth.  

1 comment:

  1. I think you're right to point to the fact that Lost in Translation seems to work against Aristophanes' view on love. Bob and Charlotte's respective spouses certainly do not appear to be the perfect halves to form a complete whole, as both of them are dissatisfied with their relationships. Interestingly, though, Lost in Translation seems to apply Aristophanes' notion on halves and wholes in a new (and more realistic) way. Both our protagonists are the necessary response to a lack in the other, filling a hole and fulfilling an emotional need. Both of them feel distant from their spouses, neither of them know the language of their current location, and the two crave a non-sexual form of emotional support. In that respect, they are almost temporary halves. Their friendship is not the result of a life-long, predestined search, as Aristophanes' theory would suggest, but it is their temporary solution to feel more "whole" or "complete" while away from home.


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