Relationship Lessons from “Lost in Translation”

I just watched “Lost in Translation” for only the second time since its release in 2003 and it occurred to me that the film contains relationship lessons that can serve my grandson well when he gets a little older. Aaron is almost 13 and, although he’s a handsome lad (if I can indulge in some grandfatherly bragging), he has yet to develop “game.” (Nor would I expect him to. It took me until my mid- 20s and if you ask my wife, she might say it never happened.) Regardless, when the time comes, Aaron could do a lot worse than taking his cues from Bill Murray’s character, Bob Harris.

For those who’ve never seen the movie, or who have forgotten, Bob Harris is an aging actor traveling alone in Japan for a TV commercial shoot. There he meets Charlotte, played by the always fetching Scarlett Johansson, a 20-something photographer’s wife trying to find meaning in her life. Both are experiencing relationship problems and, over the course of a week, develop an emotionally intimate yet largely platonic connection that my wife would, nonetheless, consider cheating.

Be that as it may, here’s why Aaron should pay attention:

Harris is sad – He’s been beaten up by life and love, has seen better days, and his marriage has devolved into brief long distance exchanges about paint swatches and carpet samples. Nonetheless, he’s not depressed or morose, and doesn’t wear his sadness on his sleeve. Instead, it comes from a deep place which he covers up with wry humor and a bemused world view. Women love this stuff because they believe the bearer possesses endless mysterious emotional layers just waiting to be plumbed. And fixed.

Harris is interested (but not too interested) – Because he’s conflicted, he doesn’t move too fast. In fact, whatever chasing is going on is initiated mostly by Charlotte. That’s an excellent lesson for a young man just entering the fray. Don’t be too attentive too early or you’ll scare her away.

Harris is present – He listens, responds appropriately, gazes meaningfully into Charlotte’s eyes, and doesn’t make himself the main topic of discussion. By the same token, he doesn’t pepper her with questions like a second-rate D.A. He strikes just the right conversational balance, which takes practice but is well worth the effort.

Harris is a good sport – Whether it’s sucking at karaoke or ordering some mystery dish from a photo on a neighborhood dive menu, he moves forward fearlessly and, just as important, unselfconsciously.

Harris is a little bit famous – It never hurts.