Thursday, March 11, 2004

When is a story not a story

I've been thinking more about what ails me concerning "Lost in Translation." I complained about the pacing -- utter slowness -- and the overwhelming feeling of despondency in the movie, punctuated by brief bursts of humor or insight. But in general, I didn't like it, Sam I am.

I think Bjorn hit the reason on the head when he noted that "Lost in Translation" was not a story, but rather than a character vignette. Granted, I've been struggling long and hard with how to write a story, because as a writer, that is my shortcoming. The stuff I put out? Not really a story.

But even so, I'm going to say one thing I do know for certain, is that a story involves change. If nothing changes -- ie character, situation -- or we don't learn anything new about a character, it's not a story. Call it a vignette, a character sketch or a portrait of a situation -- there are tons of phrases out there -- but it's not a story.

A story involves a journey of some kind. The journey can be external or internal, can be action-orientated or character-orientated. In the end though, the journey means the story started at point A and ended at point Z. There may have been detours or backpedaling, but in the end, we the readers end up at somewhere other than where we began. That is a story. And in "Lost in Translation," nothing happens.

Two strangers meet up, they find their perfect "right now" opposite and they spend time together, and then voila, at the end of the film, they back to being the people they were before they met. I had no doubt, at the end, that Charlotte would return to slinking around in her underwear and Bob would continue to fax his wife. These two characters had a relationship (platonic), it didn't work out for many very good reasons, but bam! All of that sushi-eating, karoke-singing and mutual despondency had no effect on either Charlotte or Bob. Neither of them learned anything or accepted anything.

In the end, "Lost in Translation" failed for me because I didn't learn anything new, nor did I feel any sympathy for either character and I certainly didn't have any hopes for their future. I admit it's a good film if you're interested in the here and now without the prospect of a pay-off in the future. There are subtle nuances that are well-done, bits of dialogue that are snappy and clever, but in general, it's not a story, but a vignette about two very, very depressed and boring people.

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