"Her" and "Lost In Translation:" Two Sides of the Same Story
Spike Jonze's 2013 sci-fi romance, Her and Sofia Coppola's 2003 dramedy, Lost In Translation are both films that explore themes of braving the lyrical loneliness of the human spirit. Despite being released a decade apart, Jonze and Coppola's respective movies are much more similar than they might seem.
Both films have been met with universal adoration and have achieved cult followings and coincidentally stand as two of my favorite movies of all time. Although both Lost in Translation and Her are some of the most celebrated indie films of their time, the most interesting story here is the one that served as the film's inspiration, behind the scenes: the marriage and divorce of Spike Jonze and Sofia Coppola.
On June 26th, 1999, Spike Jonze and Sofia Coppola got married, seven years after meeting on the set of Sonic Youth's music video for the song "100%" which Jonze was directing at the time. Although this marriage would create one of the film world's most recognizable power couples, it was short lived, and the two would file for divorce in December 2003, blaming their split on "irreconcilable differences." It's no coincidence that this official divorce came mere months after the release of Coppola's Lost In Translation.
A big portion of the film centers around the character, Charlotte, a young Yale graduate played by Scarlett Johansson, trapped in a loveless marriage with her egotistical photographer husband, John. From the moment it was released, cinephiles were pointing out the similarities between the failing marriages of both the main character and the director, cemented by the fact that Coppola's divorce would follow months later.
Charlotte's loneliness is something a lot of people can relate to, whether they've been in a toxic relationship or not. She's an American woman residing in Tokyo, with so much potential and no ambition. Living on the opposite side of the planet, surrounded by a culture that's not her own, and a language that she does not speak. Lost In Translation provides a complicated, nuanced view of loneliness that few other films have been able to replicate. It's a deeply human film that only gets more interesting when you gain insight into the director's personal life. Coppola has previously stated that John is "not Spike, but there are elements of him there, elements of experiences." I don't think it's a coincidence that the distant career-driven husband character just happens to be a music photographer when Spike Jonze is famous for his music videos and rock band connections.
Sofia, like Charlotte, is an extremely accomplished woman. She is one of the most prominant female directors of all time, part of a distinguished family, and the recipient of many awards. Charlotte is an astute young woman, educated at one of the world's most prestigious universities, yet next to her husband, she feels inferior. This could very well be how Sofia felt next to Spike Jonze who released his wildly successful film, Being John Malkovich mere months after they got married. It goes to show just how hard it is not to compare yourself to others no matter your own status.
The other side of this story wouldn't be made public until ten years later, in the form of Spike Jonze's Her. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore Twombly, a lonely introvert living in dystopian Los Angeles, working for a company that hires professional writers to compose heartfelt letters for customers to give to their loved ones. Although once a very happy man, he has since grown depressed due to his pending divorce from his childhood sweetheart, Catherine, whom he still loves. What makes this movie notorious is the main character's relationship with his phone's operating service, Samantha, however that aspect of the film is barley relevant in today's analysis. While Lost In Translation featured themes of marriage, Her includes strong themes of divorce. I believe that Samantha the operating system might symbolize Jonze's growing affinity for his work that soon begins to take priority over all other things in his life such as his long dead relationship.
Theodore is a very sympathetic character, his sense of lonliness is a lot more simplified than the one shown in Lost In Translation. He lives in the same big city he grew up in, owns a beautiful home, holds a steady job, and has friends who admire him, his only problem is that he has no one to share his life with. Her is not only an emotionally intelligent film but a visually stunning one as well. The production design is futuristic yet familiar and you can tell just how much creative energy was put into every aspect of the project. Yet despite how much the setting will enthrall you, the main focal point will always be the emotions of the main character, and almost the main character exclusively.
In Lost In Translation, we're able to get a general idea of the opposite spouse's character. John is an egomaniac, artistic type whose career takes priority over his marriage. In Her, we get almost zero insight into the life of Theodore's ex wife, Catherine except for one very important scene. She appears in one scene at a restaurant where she mentions in a rage that their relationship ended because Theodore "couldn't handle her" and wanted to put her on Prozac. Unlike in Lost In Translation where Charlotte's flaws are never really examined, in this scene we get a clear glimpse into Catherine's point of view, it makes us wonder about what our main character did wrong to let their relationship go sour. I see this as the director confronting whatever responsibility he might've had for his own failed marriage through Theodore.
Although Jonze had a lot of filmmaking experience before Her, this was the first screenplay he wrote entirely on his own, taking all of five months to complete. It's clear just how personal this story is to him, there's no doubt that it is at least semi-autobiographical.
In Hollywood, it's easy to profit off of celebrity drama, but rarely do people in the industry create art as powerful as Lost In Translation and Her. They clearly were not made with the sole purpose of gaining money or fame, they were released a decade apart and both movies possess a level of detail that simply doesn't come with a throwaway feature. It's clear that both these movies came from a place of pain and personal grief, and genuine, heartfelt emotion that they were able to beautifully translate to screen.
All-in-all, these two movies are a classic example of spinning straw into gold, turning grief into beautiful art for the whole world to enjoy. Although I don't wish the emotional pain of divorce on anyone, I hope that in the future, we can produce more art through difficult circumstances just like Spike Jonze and Sofia Coppola.