Processing images like those generated by dreams and myth, film can express symbolic language that speaks to universal human issues. Writer/director Sofia Coppola’s film Lost in Translation is rich in symbols that arise on the journey toward maturity and wholeness that psychiatrist Carl Jung called individuation. Several elements of the setting reflect the “de-souled” world that propels us into individuation, such as phony lounge music, karaoke, rock-star video games and a superficial young actress staying at Bob and Charlotte’s hotel. Tokyo skyscrapers and elevators correspond to the mythological idea of the cosmic tree, a symbol of modern humanity’s yearning for connection to its roots in the unconscious. Billboards and Bob’s movies on TV symbolize his midlife crisis—an actor who has sold out to making lucrative commercials and now feels the pull toward more artistic work.
From image to multilayered image, this movie is a dreamlike trip into our deepest foreign territory and all-too-real confrontation with issues we bury at our own risk.
By viewing this film with an eye on the universal symbols that accompany individuation, Lost in Translation becomes even more compelling and primes us to look for similar imagery in other films.