Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch: Movies: ‘Lost in Translation,’ ‘Luther’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Oct. 23, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

Have you ever been in a foreign country where you do not speak the language and few people speak English? It can be a very difficult experience where you even begin to question your own identity and start asking rather ultimate questions.

Lost in Translation, Sofia Coppola’s second feature film, brilliantly captures the feel of a person in a distant culture disoriented for a week or so.

A movie star past his prime has come to Tokyo to film a whiskey commercial for the Japanese audience. Bob Harris, played with incredible subtlety by Bill Murray, finds himself alone in the ultramodern Park Hyatt Hotel. When he goes out into teeming Tokyo he is bombarded by every neon sensory image possible. The high noise level of young people playing active computer games fills his ears. Retreating to his beige suite, where all colors are subdued, he is unable to sleep night after night.

A 24-year-old young married by the name of Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) also finds herself prisoner in a hotel room that seems to prevent sleep. Her husband (Giovanni Rubisi) is out each day doing fashion photographs. Charlotte, with a phone call to her mother and her initial forays into the city, finds herself isolated and wondering about the future of her own marriage.

Bob and Charlotte see each other several times and eventually meet on a late night in the bar of their hotel.

Slowly but surely two lonely people become friends and try to answer some of the questions that are brimming within each of them.

Bob seems to be feeling more than physically separated from his wife and children back in LA. He reflects on his life – a life where he is receiving a million dollars for a television commercial. He spends his sleepless nights questioning the meaning and purpose of his life.

Sofia Coppola has directed Lost in Translation with an oriental beauty and sensitivity. In real life she once spent a week in Tokyo at the same hotel filmed in her movie. She is able to capture internal thought and feelings in the visual medium of film. This is indeed a major accomplishment for any director.

Bill Murray has never been better. As many have already said, he deserves a best acting nomination at the Academy Awards. This is a serious, pensive movie, but Murray also makes it very funny.

Eighteen-year-old Scarlett Johansson is able to pull off convincingly a young woman in her mid-20s. She is an extraordinary young actress.

The ending of Lost in Translation is unusual and memorable. Here we have a movie that breaks out of the traditional romantic comedy. Lost in Translation says more about connection and deep love than any recent film in this genre.

Lost in Translation is fearless in looking into the darkness of aloneness. It attempts to give some answers to the perennial questions that all of us ask. We may be in the best of marriages or relationships, but in one way or another, we all die alone. Seldom does a contemporary movie have the guts to go there. Lost in Translation is a poetic painting that speaks to us all.

Lost in Translation is rated R – Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian, for sexual content and brief nudity in a go-go club.

The U.S. bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates Lost in Translation A-IV – for adults and teens.


The new movie Luther is a dynamic look at one of the great figures of modern history.

Joseph Fiennes does a fine job of portraying Martin Luther. He plays the part with a saintly intensity that makes Luther a cross between Jesus of Nazareth and Francis of Assisi.

To tell the story of Luther and the Reformation in around two hours takes a lot of fast movement. Sometimes it is a little confusing who the characters are.

Peter Ustinov is so good as Frederick the Wise, Luther’s protector, that he alone makes the movie worth seeing.

Luther, during his visit to Rome as a young Augustinian monk, is deeply affected by the very open corruption of the papal court. Yet the movie does give us a few cardinal types who were struggling with the need for reformation in the Church.

The prior at the monastery, played by Bruno Ganz, particularly impressed me. He helps Luther on the journey of faith and reformation with kindness and protection.

If you are familiar with Luther’s challenge to the Catholic Church and his eventual Reformation, with its down side of 100,000 deaths of the Peasants War and the destruction of medieval art in the churches, the movie Luther will make sense to you. If you are not familiar with that turbulent 16th century history that has deeply affected us all in one way or another, don’t try to make sense of it all. Just watch the change that takes place in the key characters.

You may want to read something on the Reformation after seeing this film.

The film has its flaws, but it also has beautiful sets on 20 locations throughout Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic. In the midst of tragedy and hope, Luther presents a monumental story.

If I read the credits correctly, the key funder of this production was Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.

Luther is rated PG-13 – lots of mob violence and dead bodies. The U.S. Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates Luther A-III – adults.

(Father Caswell is pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Cheney, and Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of Spokane. His reviews also appear in the Cheney Free Press.)

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