Lost in Individuation: Elements of Archetypes and Individuation in Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation”

By Antonia Felix.

Published by The International Journal of the Image

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

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 symbols that arise on the journey toward maturity and wholeness that psychiatrist Carl Jung called individuation. The movie’s protagonists, American movie star Bob Harris (Bill Murray) and neglected newlywed Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), become integral aspects of each other’s journey to self-discovery after they meet by chance in Tokyo.

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.

Tokyo, with its inaccessible language and late-night culture, represents Bob and Charlotte’s immersion into the realm of the unconscious that underlies the path of self-discovery. Here they project elements of their undiscovered selves onto each other. Colors, moods and actions charge Charlotte with femininity and emphasize her self-reflective side, all of which evoke her role as Bob’s anima, or soul image, while characteristics of Bob represent Charlotte’s corresponding animus.

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.

Keywords: Film Theory, Symbolic Images, Jung, Individuation, Archetypal Criticism

The International Journal of the Image, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp.135-144. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 591.566KB).

Antonia Felix

Published Author and Graduate Student, MFA Program in Creative Writing, Wichita State University, Emporia, Kansas, USA

Antonia Felix is the author of two novels and sixteen nonfiction books, several of which are political biographies including Sonia Sotomayor: The True American Dream (Berkley/Penguin 2010). A long-time student of the works of C.G. Jung, she has developed workshops for enhancing creativity through dream work and served as lay vice president of the Minnesota Jung Association. She earned an M.A. in English from Texas A&M University-Kingsville and in 2011 will complete an M.F.A. in Creative Writing at Wichita State University.