Scarlett Johansson

20 Years Later, Lost in Translation’s Greatest Mystery Remains Unsolved

Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation turns twenty this year -- and the film's biggest mystery somehow still has yet to be addressed.

Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, starring Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray, was one of the most renowned films of 2003. It garnered endless praise for the performances of the two leads as well as Coppola’s direction and script, which ultimately led to it taking home the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay (as well as two other nominations that it didn’t win). Though it’s earned a bit more criticism as time has gone on, Lost in Translation remains a staple in Coppola’s filmography

Lost in Translation follows Bob Harris (Murray), a washed-up movie star having a midlife crisis, and Charlotte (Johansson), a recently-married college graduate who’s not sure who she is yet, during a week they both spend alone in Tokyo. They run into each other at the hotel bar, strike up a conversation and become fast friends. They then turn to each other when they are in need of company — but at the end of the week, they have to go back to their normal lives, and their relationship comes to an end.

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Lost in Translation’s Ending Is Shrouded in Mystery

Scarlett Johansson as Charlotte stares out the window.

At the end of the film, Bob jumps out of his cab when he sees Charlotte’s honey-blonde hair through the window after they share an unsatisfactory goodbye at the hotel. They stand still, embracing in the middle of the street while life continues around them like they aren’t there at all (which echoes how their lives paused for a moment while they were together, but how they ultimately have to return to the real world). Right before they step apart, Bob whispers something unintelligible in her ear. It’s enough to bring Charlotte to tears before they kiss — their first of the film — and he has to leave her.

It’s one of the most poignant moments in the movie, and yet, it’s left entirely up to the audience’s interpretation. Though they’ve been asked about it time and time again, nobody involved with the film has ever provided any sort of clarification. The dialogue was improvised by Murray, so consultations of the screenplay don’t reveal anything. It was intended to be a private moment between the two characters, and it’s stayed that way in the 20 years since the movie came out.

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What Could Bob Have Whispered to Charlotte?

Bill and Charlotte stand against the wall.

However, this intentional privacy hasn’t stopped people from speculating about Bob’s final words to her. There have been many suggestions, with some people even claiming that a 2009 video with enhanced audio revealed the truth. However, a few years prior, in 2007, a different suggestion was made — and neither Coppola, Johansson, nor Murray have ever confirmed or denied any of the fan theories.

As a general rule, however, fans believe the line has something to do with a promise to make a better life for herself. It’s clear throughout the film that Charlotte’s dreadfully unhappy in her marriage, just as Bob is in his, but unlike himself, he thinks she still has time to get out and find joy elsewhere. Whether he’s included in that plan remains unclear, but whatever the case, he wants her to avoid repeating his mistakes. Bob’s last words in Lost in Translation may remain a mystery forever, and perhaps that’s the way it should be. That way, the viewer can imagine that he’s said whatever they need to hear the most, and the emotional impact of the film can be fully maximized.

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