Let It Remain Between Them: The Ending of “Lost in Translation”

We will never know what Bob and Charlotte said to each other in the finale of Lost in Translation, but it will forever be a definitive moment of complicity that surpasses all communication misunderstandings.
Lost in Translation (2003) Ending


Lost in Translation (2003) by Sofia Coppola ends with a bittersweet farewell between Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. The middle-aged actor in crisis, Bob Harris, and the young Charlotte, a philosophy graduate uncertain about the future, cross paths in a luxurious Tokyo hotel, recognize themselves in each other, interpreting the other’s secret and inner language, and spend time together, stealing moments of small joy in the indifferent Japanese metropolis, until they are forced to separate and return to their lives.

After a first shy greeting in the hotel lobby, Bob, inside a taxi headed to the airport, spots Charlotte in the crowd. He gets out of the car, follows her, and approaches her. Face to face again, they look at each other for a moment and melt into a hug. Then he whispers something in her ear, and after a fleeting but sweet kiss, the two part ways, smiling.

That whisper. What did Bob say to Charlotte? Viewers of all kinds have pondered these inaudible words, proposing theories, hypotheses, and possible solutions – some have even tried to listen to the phrase by tweaking and remixing the audio track – tantalized by the idea of deciphering some kind of mystery. It’s the same excitement that puzzles and brainteasers enthusiasts feel in front of puzzle films, especially those with an open ending (does the top in Inception fall or not?).

But more than a puzzle to dismantle and solve, the ending of Lost in Translation is open in the sense that it offers a glimpse into a beyond, giving the sensation that something continues even after, that it opens, precisely, towards new trajectories that will forever remain off-screen. Bob and Charlotte both move towards something else, returning to their not-exactly-happy existences, aware, however, that this sharing has touched them, maybe changed them (the melancholic smile that widens on their faces).

The end as a new beginning, then, or as a departure, see the epilogue of the latest Priscilla, where the protagonist finally leaves Elvis’ Graceland, the dollhouse that held her prisoner, reclaiming herself and moving forward, somewhere else (literally going towards an elsewhere, away from their cage-like house, also the suicidal virgins in Sofia Coppola’s feature debut).

Regarding the never-revealed words of Lost in Translation, the director herself, asked several times, answers that the ambiguity was not intentional (she was supposed to add the voice in post-production but then decided, fortunately, not to do it), and adds that what Bob says to Charlotte remains between them, “it has between them,” entrusting a blank space to the audience, a void to be filled with their personal interpretation.

And it’s magnificently mocking that, while we witness the characters’ failed attempts to communicate – the Japanese kanji of signs and billboards are unreadable hieroglyphs, and there’s always a need for an interpreter to understand each other, even when speaking the same language, as for Charlotte and Bob, unable to translate their malaise to their respective partners –, the only truly comprehensible sentence is the one we will never hear. So, let it remain between them.

Giulia Bona

Film TV, March 28, 2024


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