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.
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…?
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.
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.
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.
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.