Karaoke, not the whisper, the heart of Lost in Translation
14 September 2023
It’s been twenty years since American filmmaker Sofia Coppola’s second full length feature, Lost in Translation, was released. Pretty much all anyone could talk about at the time was the whisper scene at the end of the film, when Bill Murray’s character, Bob, uttered a comment into the ear of Scarlett Johansson’s character, Charlotte.
Murray’s words were inaudible to viewers of the film, precipitating a flurry of speculation as to what he said. You name it, people have probably argued in support of it.
I still have Lost in Translation in my aging DVD collection, and maybe every year or so, we bring it out for a spin. But the more I see the so-called whisper scene, the more pointless it becomes. Bob clearly says something uplifting to Charlotte. Great. So why keep it hushed up?
As a way of getting people to talk about Lost in Translation? But that seems like overkill, a stunt even. The movie already has numerous talking points. The pairing of Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. Their character’s respective marriage problems. Why Charlotte’s husband left her languishing in a Tokyo hotel room, while he went gallivanting around Japan, apparently for work.
But Tom Nicholson, writing for Empire Online, suggests that the karaoke scene is perhaps Lost in Translation‘s most poignant:
The karaoke sequence is a much better embodiment of what the movie’s about — a beautiful bit of intimation and suggestion and just enough irony to stop anyone taking what’s said entirely seriously. Every karaoke song choice is a chance to tell your fellow singers something about yourself using other people’s words.
The songs sung in the karaoke scene were Brass in Pocket, originally recorded by The Pretenders, and More Than This, by Roxy Music. Using other people’s words then could make figuring out what Bob whispered to Charlotte a little easier, if you still want to.