Her: A companion piece to Lost in Translation

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Spike Jonze and Sofia Coppola, pior to their divorce in 2003

It’s been over ten years since Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation was released, but has Spike Jonze finally responded to his ex-wife’s masterpiece? Although Her has it’s unique, Jonzian style, it thematically still shares a bed with Lost in Translation, as both liberally discuss the complicated beauty of human relationships.

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Think back to Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation – her second feature length script. They say ‘Write what you know’, and Sofia is someone who takes a lot from her own unusual life and puts it into her films. For example, Somewhere features an unfulfilled actor staying in the Chateau Marmont… not exactly something a lot of us can relate to, whereas Sofia is a Coppola, so probably spent many times bored and unfulfilled weekends in the Chateau Marmont, waiting for her father to finish a press conference of a shoot when she was younger. In terms of Lost in Translation, I believe that this script is her most personal screenplay. Who knows, maybe she went to Tokyo or some other hotel, experienced a profound connection with an ageing movie star whilst her husband, Spike Jonze, was busy shooting a music video. It may have even have been the Chateau Marmont! None of this is too far from a possibility when you consider that Spike has made advertisements and music videos all over the world, whilst Sofia was born into the most famous and influential Hollywood family in history.

It’s not that trivial and Coppola never even tried to disguise that the husband, John (played by Giovanni Ribisi) in Lost in Translation was meant to be Jonze. You only have to go as far as Wikipedia to see Sofia’s quote about the husband in Lost in Translation.

“There are elements of Spike there, elements of experiences.” – Sofia Coppola

As for Bill Murray’s character, we will never know, but I remember seeing an interview where Coppola expressed certainty that Bill Murray had to play Bob Harris. This could mean that he reminds her of someone specific, and also explains why there is never adultery committed in Lost in Translation.

Jonze (left) and Giovanni Ribisi as John in Lost in Translation (right)

So, the director in Lost in Translation is Spike Jonze, portrayed as an excitable and artistic man, who showed love but neglected his wife’s inner feelings (at least, for the length of that short trip). The character seems constantly plugged in and is tentative to his work but isn’t able to connect with his wife during the entire time we spend with them. Remind you of anybody from a contemporary film…?

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Juaquin Phoenix as Theodore in Spike Jonze’s Her

That’s right, Theodore from Her. I’m not saying Jonze wrote Her with himself as the main character, writers almost always draw a little of themselves into their own love stories as a means of escapism. Let’s look at three major similarities between Theodore (Juaquin Phoenix) and Spike Jonze’s situations:

  • Both men have are facing/have faced divorce
  • Both ex-wives are successful writers, who they undoubtedly have both helped creatively
  •  Both men write for other people’s love affairs rather than their own (Jonze has written for adverts and music videos, whilst Theodore writes other’s love letters)

If you find it too speculative that Jonze has drawn from his own experience of divorce, there is one moment in the script that should end any doubt.

“I used to read all of her writing, all through her PhD. She read every word I ever wrote, we were a big influence on each other. She came from a background where nothing was ever good enough. That was something that laid heavy on her. In our house together there was a sense of just trying stuff and allowing each other to fail and be excited about things. That was liberating for her. It was exciting to see her grow, both of us grow and change together. ” – Theodore (Her)

This sounds exactly as I would imagine being a young Coppola to be. You’re father directed The Godfather, a film that is considered as one of, if not the, greatest film of all time. Not only that, but you were cast as a main character in the trilogy’s final instalment, without any real credentials to do so. Furthermore, practically every member of the family has been successful in their own right, from Nicolas Cage, Jason Schwartzman to Talia and David Shire. No matter how loving they are as a family, pressure must have always come to Sofia in bucket loads from all angles; her family, the rest of the film industry and audiences alike.

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Sofia with her father, Francis Ford Coppola, director of The Godfather & Apocalypse Now

Also, the fact that this is the only detailed reference to Theodore’s failed marriage shows a lack of specificity that allows us to speculate, or perhaps stay respectful to, a world famous ex-wife in reality.

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Sofia Coppola (left) next to Rooney Mara (right) as Caroline in Spike Jonze’s Her

So, if we take these similarities to assume that Rooney Mara is, in fact, playing a fictionalised version of Sofia Coppola, a woman who had also fictionalised the director ten years before, does this make Her a response to Lost in Translation? Not solely, as I believe there are other artistic intentions from both directors, which is why these two characters take are infrequent, supporting roles in both films. The fact that writers draw from their own experiences shouldn’t shock anyone, but look closely at the final words Theodore writes to his ex-wife:

To Catherine, I’m sitting here thinking about all the things I want to apologise to you for; all the pain we caused each other, everything I put on you, everything I needed you to be, everything I needed you to say, I’m sorry for that. I’ll always love you because we grew up together and you made me who I am. I just wanted you to know there will be a piece of you in me always and I’m grateful for that. Whatever someone you become, wherever you are in the world, I’m sending you love. You’re my friend to the end. Love, Theodore

Let’s be clear, Her isn’t about the OS system, it’s about the ex-wife. To think of these words of love and appreciation of memories spent together as Spike Jonze’s real message to Sofia Coppola makes them all the more beautiful and powerfully compassionate. If this is true, Her is not only an inventive, heart-warming love story, but a swan-song love letter to a marriage that ended more than ten years ago.

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I would just like to add this, so that my intentions when discussing a celebrities marriage in this instance is clear. I hate gossip magazines and tabloid newspaper’s view that they have a right to involve themselves with celebrity’s personal lives. It’s important that this article isn’t seen as a Chinese whisper about a relationship. Looking at a writer’s life helps us understand their art and, therefore, helps us achieve a more fulfilling experience when trying to embrace their work. For example, it’s important when reading The Great Gatsby with knowledge of Zelda Fitzgerald and how she fuelled F. Scott Fitzgerald’s characterisation of Daisy. Famously, Zelda said the line ‘the best thing a girl can be in this world [is] a beautiful little fool’ to their daughter, which allows it to leave an even worst aftertaste of misogyny when you consider that it is a real statement. My point is, the real life story enriches the worth of the art. So, as much as I hate tabloid gossip, I saw something in Her and Lost in Translation that can’t be unseen, and I believe it adds further depth to the film’s meanings. These speculations, however plain and obvious, are intended as a comment of respectful interest in the two films.

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About atthematinee

Film Journalist/ Creative Writer/ Creator of Atthematinee Comm Manager at www.Moviepilot.com
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19 Responses to Her: A companion piece to Lost in Translation

  1. sinnerz13 says:

    I absolutely loved this film 🙂 reading this just makes this film all the more beautiful. It’s about human emotion and what can be mire emotional than separating from someone you love or once loved. Great blog 🙂

    Like

    • atthematinee says:

      Thank you so much! I spent a while on this today and your kind words have made it all worth it! So glad you enjoyed both my post and Spike’s film, even if I can only take credit for the former! haha!

      Like

  2. Reblogged this on Homie Williams. and commented:
    Great read. — J.W.

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  3. I found very interesting the points you made in this post about the connection between the two films and the directors’ personal lives. It is undoubtedly obvious that their experiences influenced their works. Although, I’m still eager to believe that a piece of art has an especial independence from the world of experience since the moment it is released 🙂

    Like

    • atthematinee says:

      Definitely! I think once you release artwork to the general public, it is the audience’s right to take that art and create what it means to them as an individual. In fact,I think reality removes itself a few stages. Firstly, there is memory, where we mould our own version of the past, and then theres the screenplay, and then production, and finally the edit! So in a way, even a film based on real life can only ever be 4 stages away from how it really happened!
      Thanks for your thoughts!

      Like

  4. lauraimurray says:

    Hey! This is a very interesting take on both films, you’ve really got me thinking now! I’m seeing all of Coppola’s films (even Marie Antionette!) in such a different light now. Nice one 🙂

    Like

    • atthematinee says:

      Thanks, that really means a lot!
      EVEN Marie Antoinette! haha, I actually think that film has some really good ideas, particularly the party scene with The Banshees playing and the party game scene where they put celebrities on their heads! And I love the way it ends… the individual scenes just don’t go together very well! In regards to her other films, I love The Virgin Suicides for having that melancholic teenage state that is so difficult to capture, I’d liken it to a less aggressive Catcher in the Rye. I am yet to see The Bling Ring, but I heard that she actually filmed in Paris Hilton’s house, so those cushions you see with her face on it really are in her house… madness!
      She has also done a lot of beautiful advertisements for Chanel, Dior and the like. They are worth watching! Here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LksXYGRtxDg

      How about this for food for thought… The Hunger Games is a mash up of Battle Royale with Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette as the bad guys…. what do you reckon?

      Sorry for rambling on. Miss. Coppola leaves a lot to be discussed, I think!

      Like

      • lauraimurray says:

        Oh, see I love Marie Antoinette! I agree, the scenes are disjointed but it’s just so dang beautiful! It get’s better on the 5th viewing, when you’ve given up on the story and are just watching it as a series of vignettes 🙂

        But I agree, The Virgin Suicides is amazing, Coppola’s best film by far (in my opinion at least!). And her first! What a feat! It’s just so perfectly constructed, the music is amazing (really evokes the feeling of the suburbs, don’t you think?) and all the performances are so solid! I could watch it forever!

        And OH. MY. GOD, you’ve blown my mind with the Hunger Games-Marie Antoinette mash up!

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      • atthematinee says:

        Ahh that’s good then, I thought you were saying that it was the weakest one! I’m glad you like it!
        My least favourite is Somewhere, what are your thoughts on that one? But I love that she features The Strokes’ ‘I’ll Try Anything Once’.

        I completely agree, I was about to say that i didn’t even mentioned The Virgin Suicide’s soundtrack! I really wish Air would do more film scores because it served the film thematically and was a really good piece of work!
        That’s right, they owe her royalties! Sofia needs to get her person on the phone to their people!

        I have just watched your showreel, nice work!

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      • lauraimurray says:

        No not at all! I probably love it wayyyy to much but what can I say, I love beautiful things! And I didn’t see Somewhere because I heard only bad things about it so I’m glad I didn’t miss out on anything.

        And totally agree, Air are just fantastic. I think music might be one of Sofia’s strengths because the music in Marie Antoinette is just perfect and (from memory) Lost in Translation has some great musical moments as well.

        And thanks for the showreel watch!

        Like

      • atthematinee says:

        And it makes sense now that you would love Marie Antoinette as a production designer yourself! I’m sure you will have seen it anyway, but you might like Anna Karenina for the same reasons!

        Ahh yeah, Lost in Translation is an incredible soundtrack considering there isn’t a score, just brilliant songs! Whilst we are on the subject, Lost in Translation also features ‘Too Young’ by Phoenix, fronted by Thomas Mars, Sofia’s current husband!

        Like

      • lauraimurray says:

        Haha, yes, what can I say! I love well designed, beautiful films. And LOVE Anna Karenina. And all of Joe Wright’s films, for that matter.

        Like

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  6. Pingback: Her design review | Laura Murray

  7. I love the idea that these films are connected. I think it might require a re-watch of both in succession! I completely agree that Her isn’t really about the OS – but I would say it’s more about Theodore’s inability to make connections with other people than it is about his ex-wife in particular. The ex-wife to me is just another product of his crippling emotional void.

    Like

    • atthematinee says:

      Perhaps not a product of, but an instigator towards his emotional void. However, I definitely believe that the main character arch is Theodore’s overcoming of this emotional void (due to his divorce, as he seemed okay prior to their break-up), through the emotional connection with an OS. And his heartfelt apology is the verbal representation of his new perspective, allowing himself to let go of his trauma. In that sense, the wife is more important to the story than Samantha, as she is the unassuming protagonist, although even she doesn’t realise it.

      Blimey, don’t you just love it when a film gives you this much to talk about?

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  8. Diego says:

    Cheers for following my blog dude! Her is an absolute classic. Really didn’t expect it. Still need to watch Lost in Translation.

    Like

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