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Films

What did Bill Murray whisper to Scarlett Johansson in 'Lost in Translation'?

It is an often-asked question: What did Bill Murray whisper to Scarlett Johansson at the finale of Lost in Translation? And it is often answered: Does it really matter? Nevertheless, it is the sort of poetic moment that yearns for a little more than reading between the lines and that bittersweet beauty is a perfect paradigm of the searching we often face in our own life when figurative whispers prove equally hard to fathom in the brief moment that they are presented. 

Of course, this quote is not featured in Lost in Translation, but Ferris Bueller once said, “Life moves pretty fast, you don’t stop to look around once in a while, you could miss it.” It’s not quite a line of Shakespearean level profundity but there is an undeniable truth to it. 

Life unravels in an equanimous unspooling of meandering discourse. It is a rare thing indeed on this journey to arrive at a stoplight of one of life’s unmistakable diegesis, and sometimes even these momentous junctures pass by all the same, but they always impart a hue of truth that circumstance and experience are not one and the same. As Julian Casablancas once sang: “Ten decisions shape your life, you’ll be aware of about five.”

That is the moment enacted in the finale of Lost in Translation and thanks to the perfect song choice it is paradoxically one of the most climactic anti-climaxes in movie history. The song rises up as the star-crossed duo depart with the knowing ambivalence that they have done the right thing by others and memory will persist all the same. 

Life can be bittersweet, and the scene’s honeyed sonic equivalent embalms any mellowed melancholy with the sanguine glow of sweetness. It is a song that seems to have been lassoed by enlightenment from the passing ether and gently coaxed down with good intent to meet with the reverb-laden beauty of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s atmospheric epic. And that captured path of fleeting bliss seems to do the talking for Murray in his big moment where a culmination gently breezes by.

Nonetheless, words are exchanged and aside from my hum hawing sentiments, that I pray haven’t frustrated too much, the question of what exactly is said still begs to be answered. As it happens, the scene was always intended to be improvised and in the final moments, Murray approached Johansson and fatefully uttered: “I have to be leaving, but I won’t let that come between us, OK?” (And yes, it is funny to insert your own daft irreverent alternatives).

Whether that means that he has to leave but he’ll be back or not is still up for debate. He might not let time come between the memory or he might not let life see them become memories in time… or he might let the soft touch of poetry allow him the time to decide between the two. 

Lost in Translation is currently streaming on Netflix Canada among many others.