Lost in Translation + Ship of Fools


Double feature: Although they make for markedly different viewing experiences, “Lost in Translation”  and “Ship of Fools share a fair amount of narrative DNA.

Both films highlight the emotional dislocations of travel: how it loosens the grip of home’s quotidian circumstances while never completely freeing you from them.  How it positions you at a 45° angle from your own life, affording you startling perspective on it.  How it makes you more porous to experience.

Both films ask what it means to make a connection with someone new when you’ve already given your heart to someone else.  Or rather, what kinds of connections are left to make, and where they can fit into relatively gelled lives.

Contemporary viewers may have a hard time with the melodrama of “Ship of Fools.”  And mid-1960s viewers might not have known what to make of the restraint and dreamy minimalism of “Lost in Translation,” whose fuzzy edges might not have been emphatic enough to move them.

Nevertheless, the former film is at least an implicit narrative inspiration for the latter.  “Lost in Translation” extracts two storylines from its predecessor’s whirlpool of drama – the new couple’s and the doctor’s/Condesa’s – then combines and distills them into an exploration of drifting and fame, sudden intimacy and poignant farewells.

“Ship of Fools” had those elements first, but sank them under pancake makeup and fist-biting theatricality.  It also didn’t have top-form Bill Murray going for it.  Incomparably charming, deeply felt, simultaneously open and deflecting, his performance is a significant gap for any film to fill – especially retrospectively.

For a marathon: Both “Lost in Translation” and “Ship of Fools” end with a renunciation of immediate happiness, answering to something more than the audience’s wish fulfillment.  So do “Brief Encounter” and “Roman Holiday” (incidentally, an apt comfort film for sick days at home.)

Like “Lost in Translation,” “Beginners” features small-scale escapades in a big city hotel and gently accretive charm.

(Creative Commons licensed original images courtesy of “superfem” and “Skaynsa Mattupplevelser” at Flickr)

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