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Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson)
When Charlotte tells her new BFF Bob that she's "stuck," truer words have never been spoken. Charlotte's a lethal combination of smart and self-aware, but indecisive and unambitious. The soul-pretzel that's left her in is enough to keep her up at night—and it does. In fact, when we first truly meet Charlotte in Lost in Translation she's up in the middle of the night.
Yeah, we're not counting the shot of her butt that opens the film.
Charlotte is young. She’s bored and restless. She's also curious. That's why we see her exploring Japan all by her lonesome while her photographer husband John's off at work shooting bands full of nerds. She visits temples and arcades; she tries her hand at flower arranging. She strolls aimlessly around the busy streets of the Shibuya District.
Charlotte feels empty, and she's trying to fill that metaphysical hole up with monks and ikebana. Too bad nothing works.
To see what we mean, look no further than this phone conversation Charlotte has (through tears) with her totally unsympathetic friend Lauren who's back in the states:
LAUREN: How's Tokyo?
CHARLOTTE: It's great here. It's really great, um… I don’t know; I went to this shrine today, and, um, there were these monks, and they were chanting, and I didn't feel anything, you know? And, um, I don’t know… I even tried Ikebana, and John is using these hair products—I just, I don't know who I married.
LAUREN: Oh, can you wait a second? Just hold on. I'll be right back.
CHARLOTTE: Okay, sure.
LAUREN: Sorry, what were you saying?
CHARLOTTE: Nothing. It's okay. I'll call you later, okay?
LAUREN: Okay. Have the best time. Just call me when you get back, okay?
Charlotte's desperately trying to understand the world around her, and to be understood by the world around her. That's why the monks affect her so much—or rather, why the fact that the monks don't affect her affects her so much. Charlotte doesn't get what the big deal is. She doesn't feel moved, and we kinda get the idea that, at this point, she's be happy to feel just about anything.
Charlotte struggles to understand John, too. He doesn't get her. In all of their scenes together, most of which are in their hotel room when he's either coming, going, or trying to sleep, John seems to move around Charlotte, never with her. These two kids are drifting apart.
It bothers John that Charlotte can see how superficial and silly his work often is, how moronic the company he keeps is, and how lame his newfound love of hair products and 24/7 sweatbands is.
Check out this exchange between Charlotte and John that comes after Kelly says she's registered with the Park Hyatt under the name Evelyn Waugh, a.k.a. the famous British novelist. Kelly has no idea that Waugh was a man, or that his name was pronounced "EEV-lyn."
CHARLOTTE: Evelyn Waugh?
CHARLOTTE: Evelyn Waugh was a man.
JOHN: Oh, come on. She's nice. What? You know, not everybody went to Yale. It's just a pseudonym, for Christ's sake.
CHARLOTTE: Why do you have to defend her?
JOHN: Why do you have to point out how stupid everybody is all the time?
CHARLOTTE: I thought it was funny. Forget it.
John thinks she's mean at times, and kind of a snob. A winning combination, if ever there was one. John and Charlotte seem to be on two totally paths. One's filled with listening to actresses talk about their dad's anorexia; the other's filled with soul-searching self-help CDs.
The temporary cure for Charlotte's restlessness and dissatisfaction with married life is Bob. For starters, he's someone she can match wits with. She has less in common with John than she thought, and she has zilch in common with the people John wants to hang out with.
When Charlotte has drinks in the hotel bar with John, Kelly, and Kelly's friend, she seems crazy-bored. When she spots Bob at the bar, she perks up, and doesn't even bother trying to mask her disinterest in what her peers are yammering on about anymore:
KELLY'S FRIEND: You know that break beat, right. Well, I've been, like, taking it to some next-level s***. Like, I'll take that and put a delay on it, so it's like [He beatboxes]. So it's like involving the beat. So it sounds like hella large on the track. You know what I'm sayin'?
Charlotte's detached from the world around her. Except when she's with Bob. They're kindred spirits, both of them lost in a world that seems utterly foreign (and we don't just mean Japan), and with zero idea what to do next. All they know is, when it comes to the status quo, they both want out:
CHARLOTTE: You having a nice time?
BOB: Can you keep a secret? I'm trying to organize a prison break. I'm looking for, like, an accomplice. We'd have to first get out of this bar, then the hotel, then the city, and then the country. Are you in, or are you out?
CHARLOTTE: I'm in.
Charlotte also digs the attention she gets from Bob; not in a "Look at me” kind of way, but in a nurturing, paying attention from moment to moment way. She likes it when Bob takes her to the hospital to get her toe checked out, for example. We know John wouldn’t make a fuss over her like that because, well, he hasn't.
Seemingly small and simple gestures, like making a big deal about a potentially cadaverous toe, matter to Charlotte. It's not hard to see why. If John's not shuffling his lenses around as he packs up his stuff for work, he's unpacking it all or talking about work. Nurturing, he is not.
Bob's exhausted brand of honesty appeals to Charlotte, too. She's a woman on a quest for answers, even if she's not always motivated to keep up the search. By being open with Charlotte—about his marriage, about having kids, about his own sense of malaise—Bob shows her that she's not the only one who's indecisive and insecure. He also encourages her to stop worrying about what she's supposed to be and to start being proud of who she is already:
CHARLOTTE: Yeah. I just don't know what I'm supposed to be, you know? I tried being a writer, but I hate what I write. I tried taking pictures. They're so mediocre, you know? Every girl goes through a photography phase. You know, like horses? You know, taking dumb picture of your feet.
BOB: You'll figure that out. I'm not worried about you. Keep writing.
CHARLOTTE: But I'm so mean.
BOB: Mean's okay.
Gee. Wonder where she got that "I'm so mean" stuff from, John.
In Bob, Charlotte finally finds someone who understands her because he's just as stuck as she is. She can open up to him, and, because of that old soul self-awareness we mentioned earlier, she can appreciate their unique relationship for what it is: a tight connection that could only have happened where it did, when it did, for how long it did.
That's exactly why she says this to Bob:
CHARLOTTE: Let's never come here again, 'cause it would never be as much fun.
She's right. They could never recreate their week together in Tokyo with other people. They couldn't even recreate it with each other if they wanted to. We don't know what Bob says to Charlotte on the street before they part ways, probably forever, but it doesn't really matter. Their week together has already shown Charlotte that the best way to figure out what you're supposed to want is to stop looking for it and let it come to you.
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