Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Struggle Between Emotion and Obligation

Emotions are a powerful driving force for many, if not most, people. They can cause us to do things we normally wouldn't but can also hinder us. Human emotion is an incredible source for inspiration but this can be overpowered by other things like the social obligations we make with the people around us. Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation is a film which shows how one’s emotions and obligations can collide. The movie is about a middle aged actor named Bob Harris who is shooting a commercial in Japan and the intimate friendship he forms with a young woman named Charlotte. Both characters are married, Bob having being married for over 20 years and Charlotte having recently married a young photographer who has been stationed in Japan. Bob and Charlotte find themselves dissatisfied with the current state of their marriages and happen to meet in the hotel they both stay at. After a series of interactions they become close friends, spending time drinking at bars and singing karaoke. It seems to be apparent that the two of them share a unique bond that they are missing in their marriages and so this causes a conflict between their emotions and obligations.

Diane Jeske writes about obligations in her work Families, Friends, and Special Obligations. Jeske talks about how people have special obligations to certain individuals, consisting of family and friends alike. Much of this work discusses the differences and similarities between obligations to family and friends and shows that familial obligations can be entered voluntarily as well, even though people cannot choose their family. In discussing the obligations which we have with friends, she says that there are implicit and explicit ways of establishing these obligations. Marriage is one of the explicit ways of doing this because one takes a set of vows which they are expected to uphold. Breaking these vows, or any obligation which one is engaged in, makes one morally corrupt (especially in the case of marriage which are considered sacred/high tier vows). This is the risk faced by both Bob and Charlotte in the movie. The two of them form an intimate bond of friendship and it is apparent that there are feelings of desire between them, but they never act on those feelings completely because of the obligations to their respective spouse.

Something that this movie made me think about was the way in which people take into account other people’s obligations. When it comes to our friends (and our family as well) we tend to avoid doing things that cause them to fail in their obligations to others. I think this is seen in the movie when Bob sleeps with a woman he meets at the bar toward the latter half of the film. Charlotte catches him and the two have a quarrel (well Charlotte’s jealousy is shown at least). What I noticed though is that instead of going to Charlotte who he has real feelings for he hooks up with a stranger. I’m sure that part of this was due to the situation of it all and the age gap that exists between Bob and Charlotte but when following emotions it makes more sense for him to sleep with Charlotte, who I am sure would not be opposed to the idea. What I think is shown is that friendship in itself creates an obligation which implicitly demands that one should not do something which will compromise the other’s obligations. This is why I believe Bob slept with the woman instead if Charlotte. Sleeping with either woman would break his obligation to his wife, but if he had chosen to sleep with Charlotte he would also break the obligation he has to her. In this example we see that Bob’s emotions are powerful enough to break the obligation he had to his wife, but not the one he had to Charlotte.

Since I am talking about emotions I also want to address the emotions evoked in the film. In Spectator Emotion and Ideological Film Criticism by Carl Plantinga, he discusses how people should critique the films they watch to understand “the moral and ideological import of experiences offered by films” (Wartenberg and Curran 148). In this work he mentions how some movies can produce manipulative emotions which can cloud the viewer’s outlook on the movie. I think that Lost in Translation is a movie which does not produce manipulative emotions; or at least it does so to a minimum degree. I watched this movie with a friend and we both couldn't help but notice that much of the movie just seemed to be random events within Bob and Charlotte’s lives together. To me this movie seemed to paint a realistic picture of the situation. There are some romanticized parts but much of it seemed like something I could expect to see in real life. In conclusion this movie does a good job at portraying realistic characters who, like the average human, must deal with the conflicts of their emotions and obligations. 

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating connection between Bob's desire to commit to his own obligations and his wish to not impose upon Charlotte's - I hadn't thought of that. I also think that your comment about the realism of the film is important with respect to emotional manipulation. Most people never feel "emotionally violated" after watching Lost in Translation because it doesn't present a conflict with our perception of relationships, whether it's the ones we've witnessed or the ones we've experienced ourselves. There are very few moments of swelling musical scores or grandiose declarations of adoration. Even the scene where Bob and Charlotte say their final goodbye is wonderfully understated, which I think contributes to that realism a great deal.


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