More than This
Dan Friedman

Warning: Contains spoilers for Lost in Translation.

In Japan, the appearance of spring blossoms on the cherry trees is attended by great attention and fanfare. Offices organize outings, families plan picnics, and news bulletins record how far north the cherry line stretches up the largely North-South islands of the Japanese archipelago. However the opening of these tender buds occasions not only joy, but also a strange sorrow. Once the delicate petals have opened, the clock is ticking on their life's short lease and their blooming heralds their imminent death. The Japanese call the observer's combination of joy, sadness, and appreciation of beauty mono no aware - a recognition of the transience of things.

A similarly pre-emptive nostalgia pervades not only the present Days-of-Awe season but also Roxy Music's 1982 hit "More than This." On this track the complete happiness of "More than this - there is nothing" is tempered by the acknowledgement of its impermanence, since "Like a dream in the night / Who can say where we're going." Throughout the song images of impermanence ("leaves in the night" "free as the wind" "sea on the tide" "dream in the night") suggest that the moment has to end (there will be "more than this") but that at the right second it is perfect ("more than this -- there is nothing"). Somehow, woven together by a powerful although flawed romanticism, the song contains both beliefs simultaneously: that there could be nothing more than this, and yet there is, for better or for worse, more than this.

Haunting the soundtracks of both Coppola cousins' current releases is this same Roxy Music hit from the early 80s. In Ridley Scott's frantically plotted Matchstick Men, Ferry fades in surprisingly, as just about the sole representative of the 80s, butting in amongst the lounge classics that usually accompany Roy (Nicholas Coppola Cage) in his mellower moods. Judging by the chronology that Roy explains to Dr. Klein (Bruce Altman), "More than This" comes from Roy's golden era, nearly twenty years before the action of the film, when he was first courting his now long-since-ex-wife. In this case Ferry's precious crooning is a wistful nostalgia for an earlier, better time in Roy's life.

In Sofia Coppola's almost plotless Lost in Translation (Japanese hotel: lonely old married man meets lonely young married women. They hang out.), we don't get to hear Bryan Ferry, but we do hear his coeval Bob Harris (Bill Murray) sing a broken karaoke version of it with great feeling. He sings it at the high point of an evening spent out with the much-younger Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) and her Japanese friends. In the midst of a crowd of vague acquaintances they share an unspoken moment whose unfulfillable potential is deeply poignant, made all the more so because the acquaintances seem oblivious to it. Like a cherry blossom, the moment will pass, like "leaves in the night" what they have is the memory of the recognition of the passing moment.

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Image: Jay Michaelson

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