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Lost In Translation

One of her ambitions was to own a watch on which she could change the time whenever she wanted to (which according to her was what Time was meant for in the first place).
-- Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

...God...counts minutes and pennies...
-- Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Journey to the End of the Night

An extra hour gained, Daylight Savings Time lost. Not to be found again for five months, along with most of the daylight.

I shouldn't gripe. The extra hour gives me hope for the future. Hope that time isn't as rigid and unforgiving as I think it is. Hope that the hours I sacrifice day after day in defense of the Patrie aren't really sacrificed, but transferred to some kind of Swiss account -- to be withdrawn once I'm wise enough to know how to use them. And most of all -- hope that events like sleep, and reunions, and get-togethers with friends, might happen not just after the appropriate number of hours or weeks or years has passed -- but when I really need them to happen.

As of now, I've seen Lost In Translation three times. None of those times, appropriately, was anywhere near my hometown. I'd drive to a town I knew nothing about, except the directions to the theater. See the movie. Be enchanted. Drive home. Fail to be enchanted. Throw myself into any activity that promised temporary forgetfulness of my lack of enchantment. Repeat.

At first I thought Lost In Translation was sweet-natured. But now I wonder. The film manages to say many things, clearly and forcefully, about how little you can hope for from communication on any level.

Damn near anything can get lost in translation. Like cover tunes. Any one-calorie cover band can take a respected standard, run it through the trash compactor, and claim that the resultant soggy multicolored cube is the same song by the same artist. Just tightened up. Then add alcohol, plus an audience that doesn't realize they have anywhere else to go. Fail to stir vigorously.

Here's something that the movie suggests got lost on the way to Japan: the entire point of Western consumer culture. Here's the deal. In return for hogging the world's resources, we in the West promote progress through competition. This is for the ultimate betterment of humanity. Anyone who works for it can have a higher standard of living, once they finally get a few minutes to go home from work.

But Japan. Man. I don't know. In college Psych class they told us about an experiment where they took some rats and hooked wires directly to their pleasure centers. Then they gave the rats levers to press to send current through the wires. The movie's scenes of downtown Tokyo -- especially of a gambling establishment with row after row of bleeping one-armed bandits and HAL lookalikes, with each patron having the same amount of floor space as a veal calf -- made me think of those rats with wires in their heads. Not eating, not sleeping -- just pushing the levers, pushing and pushing until they collapsed.

The only oasis of placidity was an animated advertisement on the side of a skyscraper: a computer-generated brachiosaur gliding serenely above the heads of city-dwellers too busy to see it.

On a personal scale, the news is equally bad. You can live in the same twenty-four-hour day as everyone else but be totally out of sync. You can be a husband and make the same phone call that gazillions of husbands make to gazillions of wives. You know the one: the phone call where you're held up at work and calling to check in, and your wife says you're daughter's refusing to eat her lunch, and you tell your wife to tell your daughter that Daddy Said Eat Something.

Only when you make this call, you're in a timezone sixteen hours away, sitting in an empty hotel pool at four in the morning. The echoes keeping you closer company than anyone on the other end of the phone ever could. And, really, it doesn't matter where you sit or what timezone you're sitting in: nothing you say into that phone will ever be heard, and nothing that comes out of it will ever reach you.

It's appalling how often life fails the laugh test. This is why they invented gallows humor. Gallows humor gives you a way to laugh at the parts of life that aren't funny.

It's like this. You're a comedian, and they liked your schtick the first time around. But it's gotten old. One time you tried out a new schtick -- and lost most of your core audience. So it's back to the old schtick, with the hope that your audience will forgive you for trying not to be the object of their overfamiliar contempt.

Thank God for strangers. Thank God for Japan, and Scarlett Johansson, and Bill Murray, and hotel bars at two in the morning. Thank God for the hope that while slogging through some extra hour of some extra day, you might find someone to talk to.