Lost in Translation, written, directed and produced by Sofia Coppola, focuses on surprising cross-generational friendship between a washed-up actor who is in Tokyo to do a whiskey commercial or and a young married woman who doesn't know what to do with her life. Jet-lagged and culture-shocked, these two lost and unhappy souls meet at their hotel. Over time, they talk, share secrets, and enjoy the pleasures of the city. The drama starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson moves slowly and shows the incremental changes in the consciousness and spirit of these two individuals as a result of their brief time together.

This film will spark discussions on the nature, benefits, and challenges of travel; the confusions of youth and the malaise of middle age; and facing obstacles and experiencing transformation in your life. The film runs 102 minutes and is rated R for some sexual content. For our review of the film and a plot synopsis, click here.

1. Make Your Travel Soulful

There is a difference between the ordinary tourist and the person who makes his/her journey into a soulful experience. Phil Cousineau writes about this in The Art of Pilgrimage. "If there is a trick to soulful travel, it is learning to see for yourself. To do this takes practice and a belief that matters. The difference between pilgrim and tourist is the intention of attention, the quality of curiosity. The traveler soon learns that it is difficult to unlearn a lifetime of habitual seeing, the ordinary perception that gets one through the day at home but is inadequate to the task of comprehending the suddenly unfamiliar, strange, even marvelous things."

  • At the outset of the film, Bob and Charlotte are jet-lagged tourists who are thrown off balance by their journey to Tokyo. How would you describe their mood in the early segments of the drama? What lies behind their inertness and their lack of interest in what is going on around them?
  • What kind of traveler are you? Does travel energize you or do you find it more exhausting than your routine at home? What was the most soulful trip you have ever taken? What happened to you and what changes did it bring into your life? Share some of the ways you have been able to "unlearn a lifetime of habitual seeing" while traveling.

2. Go on the Stream of the Unknown

"To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the most pleasant sensations in the world. You are surrounded by adventure. You have no idea what is in store for you, but you will, if you are wise and know the art of travel, let yourself go on the stream of the unknown," Freya Stark writes in Baghdad Sketches.

  • Charlotte and Bob are staying in a luxury Tokyo hotel with a magnificent view of the city and many conveniences. Why do you think they initially can't get into the adventure of being in a new place? What is the symbolic significance of their being unable to sleep? What is the turning point that enables them to let themselves go on the stream of the unknown?
  • Are you a conscientious planner who makes sure there are few surprises on your journeys to faraway places? Or do you savor the unknown and leave openings for excursions that are not on your itinerary? What spiritual practices would enable you to respect the mysteries that are inherent in all soulful travel?

 Scarlett Johansson as Charlotte and Bill Murray as Bob

3. Combat Boredom as a Drain on Your Vitality

"Boredom is like Swiss cheese. It's a condition in which dullness and drab repetition bore holes into our faith and love. Life and vitality can then easily drain out of those holes," Edward Hays writes in Feathers on the Wind.

  • It is said that we can never escape our problems; we take them along with us to the places where we go to escape them. What is the source of Charlotte's discontent? And why is Bob so unhappy even with all the perks of a life as a celebrity?
  • If you were counseling Charlotte or Bob, what would you suggest to them as way of moving beyond their feeling of the blahs? What spiritual practices have you discovered to stop boredom from draining out the life and vitality from your faith and love?

4. Avoid Numbness and Stagnation

According to Daniel Levinson, author of The Seasons of a Man's Life, "many middle-agers have remained in what they feel is a limited marriage or limited occupation and are simply making do. They find it tolerable but unfulfilling and that kind of stagnation is one of the greatest tragedies of our time. They continue indefinitely in an unhappy situation and get numb about it."

  • What scenes in the film best convey Bob's numbness in regard to his occupation and his marriage? How does this stagnation manifest in his character and personality?
  • The spiritual practice of gratitude or counting one's blessings is one of the best ways to combat stagnation malaise. What other nurturing practices provide an escape route from the problem of numbness?

On Japanese Television

5. Work through the Obstacles in Your Life

"For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin — real life." Alfred DeSouza has observed. "But there was always some obstacle in the way, some unfinished business, time still to be survived, a debt to be paid. Then, life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life."

  • Charlotte says she's stuck. Have you ever, like her, felt lost and anxious about the purpose of your life? Talk about how you handled these feelings. Share your response to the scene where she asks Bob if life ever gets any easier and he responds: "Yes, it gets easier. The more you know about what you want, the less things upset you."
  • One of the challenges of youth is to find a way to live with obstacles and the unknown. By middle age and beyond, people have usually come to some kind of peace with the fact that difficulties will always arise and so many mysteries abound that trying to provide answers to them all is exhausting as well as impossible. How have you befriended the obstacles and mysteries in your life?

6. Make Music as Friends

W. H. Mathieu suggests a good exercise for friends in The Musical Life: "Imagine yourself and your most intimate friend in deep conversation, feeling one another's feelings while taking soul talk. Effortlessly, your speech turns into music: two braided instruments, a clarinet and a cello, or a French horn and trombone, or two flutes, or a soprano saxophone and an electric bass."

  • What adjectives would you use to describe the friendship that forms between Charlotte and Bob? In what scenes do they achieve the deepest intimacy? What two instruments would they be during these moments of soulful sharing?
  • Talk about a cross-generational friendship that you have had. What are a few of the benefits and drawbacks to this kind of closeness with a person older or younger than you are?


7. Clear the Ground for New Growth

"Whether you choose your change or not, there are unlived potentialities within you, interests and talents that you have not explored. Transitions clear the ground for new growth. They drop the curtain so that the stage can be set for a new scene," William Bridges writes in Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes.

  • What is your reading of the two farewells between Bob and Charlotte? How do you think their friendship has cleared the ground for new growth in their lives?
  • 2. What was the most recent transition in your life that dropped the curtain so that the stage could be set for a new scene? How did things turn around for you?

May the stars light your way
And may you find the interior road.
— a traditional Irish blessing

This guide is one in a series of more than 200 Values & Visions Guides written by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat. Text copyright 2003 by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat. Photos courtesy of Focus Features. This guide is posted as a service to visitors to www.spiritualityandpractice.com. It may not be photocopied, reprinted, or distributed electronically without permission from Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat. For this permission and for a list of other guides in the Values & Visions series and ordering information, email your name and mailing address to: brussat@spiritualrx.com.