The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes. —Marcel Proust
You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. —Bob Dylan
The film Groundhog Day demonstrates the wonder of living each moment as a totally new event. It follows a day in the life of weatherman Phil Connors, a sarcastic curmudgeon. He wakes upon the same day, Groundhog Day, again, and again, and again. His namesake, Phil the groundhog (himself a weatherman), sees his shadow, is frightened and goes back into his burrow, thus predicating six more weeks of Winter. Phil Connors is frustrated by living the same day over and over again. He wants to get somewhere else, find new circumstances, he tries to escape each day with the scenarios of his life. He pursues sex, but after a while it is a dead end. Crime is exciting but becomes tiresome. Drinking, therapy, suicide, finding a love relationship, all are explored. The habits and shadows of his life are found wanting.
Lost in translation
Have you ever been alone in a foreign country with time on your hands? Have
you experienced the loss of the familiar contexts of your life? Airports and hotels
are impersonal spaces, which give no individual clues. Basis questions of who
you are and what you are doing confront you. A palpable ennui, a disturbing
feeling of purposelessness may arise. Disconnectedness and loss of identity due
to the changing contextual nature of the self are common themes in Buddhism.
One needs to go beyond going to take one’s place.
Lost in Translation is a remarkable exploration of two people adrift from their
normal routine in a week’s sojourn in Japan. Charlotte is accompanying her
husband on a business trip. He is a photographer who has little time for her, but
exhibits interest in a starlet whom he has photographed and who is interested
in him. Charlotte tries exploring Tokyo on her own, but it just brings home her
isolation. A philosophy major in college, she is more than just a pretty face. She
visits a Buddhist temple, is drawn to it, but then leaves quickly, upset. She is
obviously in turmoil.
Bob Harris is an aging movie star on an advertising gig for a Japanese liquor
company. World weary, he realizes he is on the downside of his career. The job
in Japan is strictly to pay the bills. Bob is married but it is clear that he and his
wife are somewhat removed from each other. For them, the logistics of kids and
carpet samples have taken over.
The film is atmospheric. It shows Bob and Charlotte like ghosts moving in the
bardo of the impersonal hotel. (The bardo is the disembodied realm between
death and birth). Lost in Translation is an American film that has the look and feel
of a foreign movie. It depicts a mood of psychological space from which people
emerge. Sometimes getting lost, disoriented from the usual sense of time and
space is an opportunity to take a fresh look at who we take for granted, who we
are. Who we are is about what is not said and not expressed as much as what is
said and is expressed. It’s about our implicit assumptions rather than our explicit
Charlotte and Bob are drawn to each other on many levels. Father/daughter,
man/woman. They are lonely, lost foreigners who find a common bond in their
lonliness. Their friendship becomes quite close and the sexual element comes
to the surface. Intimacy often manifests itself sexually and this sexual tension is
felt here. When two people truly meet, they can find their true place. The Lotus
Sutra says that only a Buddha together with a Buddha can fathom the reality of all
existence. Two living systems interacting open to the wider world.
The Chinese Zen Master Dongshan Liangjie (807 – 869) said, “not knowing is the
most intimate”. Thinking we know something often keeps us from seeing another
side of them. If you give up your assumptions about someone a whole new
person may arise. Instead of seeing the people you know with fresh eyes, we
often discard old relationships and begin new ones in order to see things fresh.
Which just leads to another round of surface excitement rather than seeing each
moment, each person anew?
The closing scene of the movie is particularly poignant. After an awkward
goodbye at the hotel, Bob gets out of the taxicab and runs after Charlotte to
whisper something in her ear. We don’t know what he says. In Japanese the
word mitsu means secret but it also means intimate – perhaps offering a glimpse
into the nature of their relationship. Ultimately, Charlotte and Bob find themselves
in the midst of translation.
The mantra at the end of the Heart Sutra ( Gate, gate, paragate, parasmgate, Bodhi
Svaha) heard briefly early in the film when Charlotte visits a Buddhist temple,
translates as “Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone beyond the going. Light. Wow!” It
is a hint of how to awaken to completeness in each moment.
To go beyond ideas. To go beyond body, speech and mind. To go where not
knowing opens to a fresh view of the world. Getting really lost may lead you to
find who you are.