“Translation is at best an echo.” – George Borrow
Listen to me, Sofia . . .
There’s a moment in Lost in Translation everyone talks about, after they’ve talked about the “whisper” near the end. It’s the instant when I, the actor character in your movie, do a double-take on seeing myself on a billboard on my jetlagged taxi to the Tokyo hotel where I spend much of the rest of my time. Most people won’t get it till they see the film a second time, but the reason the sight takes me so unawares is that, having only been here an hour at best, the picture on the ad couldn’t have been taken yet. The situation is, like everything else that happens here, left to speak for itself. It’s an experience of the uncanny, such as what follows for the rest of my story.
Something about Lance Acord’s luminous photography, the breathy soundtrack, the feeling of passivity in the back of a cab in the seeming middle of the night tells me I’m in a dream, as you signal in your opening shot of Charlotte, the woman I come so close to loving, lying in the half-light, her back to the audience like a cat. She is a mediator between worlds — our copula, Sofia — the means by which you brought me into being. And yet it’s not her I love; it’s you — unreachable, untouchable, unknowable, uncanny. As you used her to coax me from half a world away to get to know you and learn something of this unknown ground between us, then, so may I also use her, your philosophy student, our liaison between heaven and — heaven — to address you, to express my gratitude for this act of creation.
Having done so twice already, let me explain what I mean when I use the term uncanny. I take it the same way Freud did, as that sense of the unheimlich — the un-home-ly — an encounter with something familiar which seems somehow unfamiliar, whether a lost part of the self returned in another form; a private thought or feeling made peculiar by its representation in the visible world; a loss of one’s sense of mastery over the material realm (what Sartre termed nausea); an unexpected fulfillment of one’s wishes, as though one’s desires had been known; a moment of creative genius, when an invented personality takes on independent life or, as Freud has said, “a symbol takes on the full function of what it symbolizes.” It’s also the surprise of finding that the ETA Hoffman story, “The Sand-Man,” Freud used as a touchpoint in his oft-cited essay on “The Uncanny” itself focuses on an Italian optician named Coppola. As the Latin coppo means “eye-socket,” so too are you the eyes or lens through which I am seen, through the mind of Charlotte. For me it’s like being bathed in the body’s own electric current for the 102 minutes of our existence; this feeling of knowing you.
And I know the effect is mutual, too; the opposite sex is always uncanny. From your maiden feature, The Virgin Suicides, through your most recent, you’ve looked at the sexes from every viewpoint in order to find the heimlich in the unheimlich. To do this you’ve had to alienate yourself, to fashion some not-you between yourself and your leads, preferably in some foreign location, whether ’70s suburbia, contemporary Japan, or 18th-century Versailles. You’ve had to make yourself uncanny, that you might meet your Other as yourself. Not for nothing did you situate us in Japan, the home of the original fission that marked that country’s separation from its history of reverence for nature and the zen Buddhist One into a modern technological anomie. Japan understands. (As did your father Francis, whose first picture, Battle Beyond the Sun, started with a mushroom cloud, initiating a career-long parade of atomically divided characters trying to reunite with their alternately redemptive and corrupting Others.) Yet for all the unearthliness of neon-and-glass Tokyo, there’s a certain sanctity about the place, a sense of belonging in the unhomeliness. It’s the perfect place for opposites to meet and, more than reconcile their differences, recognize their likenesses.
This realm is also known as the world of dreams. Here, the conscious and the unconscious mind meet to enact those dramas neither is capable of realizing without the other. The ego willingly forfeits its power over the self in order to let other aspects of the personality come out and test their differences and affinities in search of new possibilities. We tend to gender the consciousness masculine for its seeming willfulness, control, and valuing of logic over the emotions, versus the more spontaneous and intuitive associations of the “feminine” unconscious. Disoriented as my character is, then, there’s a sense of his feminization — especially as I’m given as a onetime action star whose defining trait now is nothing if not inaction.
If everything about the place seems off, or wrong, it’s because we’re both in an unfamiliar frame of mind. For me, it’s called middle age. That’s why I forget my son’s birthday, and why I have to get away from the two businessmen who recognize me from my movies, for my youth, my past is as strange to me now as the future is to Charlotte. The billboard welcoming me here is a reassurance, then, as though some part of me had gone on ahead to explore this new place; it serves a similar function to the last-shot photo in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, to demonstrate that no matter how alien it may seem to me now, I Have Always Been in Japan.
Likewise Charlotte, whose responses to me early in our meeting suggest an always-already quality to our relationship, though she doesn’t recognize me from a previous encounter and seems unfamiliar with my film-life. Caught in a misguided marriage something like my own, she shares an estrangement from an unnamed part of herself, an association that isn’t working anymore. When she laments to her sister “I don’t know who I married,” it’s as good as saying to what she’s married, betraying the source of her anxiety: She doesn’t know where her other half lies.
Like spores from another planet, we’ve both drifted here to find a new self to live in in this alien world, a commonality beyond the cultural mystifications that keep us apart as man and woman. Yet it’s not these structural and linguistic codes that alienate us, it’s the alienation itself. Nothing is truly lost in translation but our selves — and I don’t mean a loss in the sense of absence, failure or diminution, but a lost-in-the-stars sublimity that comes from abandoning oneself to the fact of finding a loving other in this world.
Adding to our sense of Parousia are the reverberations from your other films, beginning with Charlotte’s name. Besides being a winking acknowledgment of the actress who plays her, Scarlett Johansson, it’s also the name of a central character in the script you co-wrote with your father for his segment of the New York Stories omnibus, “Life Without Zoe.” That film’s Charlotte, as globetrotting mother to its title child, suggests an imaginative future for your present character. And, since Zoe was a thinly veiled surrogate for yourself — and as mythological Sophia, whose name meant wisdom, was the actual mother of mythological Zoe, whose name meant life — you get the sense of a parthenogenetic creatrix serially rebirthing herself child-unto-mother-unto-child again. The title effectively translates into “Life Without Life,” making it a ringer, too, for the movie your father would attempt to regenerate his own artistic spirit with 18 years later, Youth Without Youth. Zoe is also the name of my daughter here, as well as being the first part of your dad’s beloved Zoetrope Studios — meaning that you, kind mother, are in some sense the generator of his life-work and the raison d’être for his creative genius.
Virgin‘s narrator and self-confessed creator of the “noise that seemed to fascinate” that film’s girls is played by Giovanni Ribisi, Lost‘s photographer husband John, first seen similarly snoring while Charlotte keeps window-watch over nighttime Tokyo. In a way, the earlier film plays as John’s backstory, then, his character’s attempt to understand the opposite sex a sort of autopsy on its title sisters, who commit group suicide. The theatrical manner of their deaths suggest that they function mainly to be seen, not “known,” to show these young men something of what they’re on the verge of losing; poor John still wants only to fix these objects in space, having apparently not learned his lesson.
That Charlotte has a degree in philosophy — from the Latin philo-sophia — tells me there’s an element of self-love, self-regard, self-knowledge that has somehow failed to yield her author the kind of satisfaction she’s looking for. The fact that she’s about as believable in her discipline as I am in my action past tells us how distant we’ve become from our origins, both looking now for that understanding that can only be found in an other. The course you chart in your story is our path back to each other, to that unity of purpose when the mind and body we represent were one and the muse spoke in a language that transcended words.
You open our movie with a vignette of a woman’s behind; you close it with a vision of one man’s future. That first shot is a reframing of John Kacere’s painting Jutta, so that the effect of your fade to black is one of disappearing into a work of art, your film a modern-day Keatsian “On First Looking into Kacere.” The filminess of her underwear is a signal as to the ethereal tone the rest of the drama will take, much like the similarly fleeting, transient introductions to all your pictures. It also calls attention to the midsection of life I’m encountering as well as suggesting that you are beginning at the End, reinforcing the action to follow as a crawling back to some originating or essential moment from which two static characters may rediscover their momentum. As an in-flight voiceover announces my arrival, it is, finally, a birthing out the ‘other’ side: my introduction into your world.
Being a semi-retired actor, I’m a dormant character called into action to fulfill a particular role in your life — the animus whose archetypal purpose is to guide a woman back to her spirit-self, and the “regressive masculinity,” or mythical symbol of power lost to many women on the advent of sexual or social maturation. It’s been said that I was modeled on your father, who similarly had not made a movie of his own for six years by the time of Lost‘s release; it could also be said that your film was a rite of invocation to urge him back into creative work, though I know who I’m really here to represent.
Awaking in a cab, I’m a figure both of and in transition. The electric paintbox city that passes by my window suggests a Tron-like landscape, indicating your own disorientation suddenly occupying a masculine mindspace, like Marie Antoinette transplanted early in your next film from her native Austria to her intended husband’s Versailles. My many fish-out-of-water scenes illustrate the reciprocal effect of finding myself in or serving a feminine consciousness, my double-take on seeing myself on that billboard like a scene in some eighties’ genderswitch movie when the heroine sees her new self in the mirror for the first time. As it’s a sophisticated pose I’m struck by, this vision of a self-to-be suggests the refinement we both seek here, a coming-into-the-self achievable only by leaving that self for as long as it takes to get an objective viewpoint. (One flashes to the out-of-body sequence of your father’s Rumble Fish, as foreseen in his preceding The Outsiders.) My suavity up there contrasts awkward John here on earth, a character purportedly based on your estranged director-hubby Spike Jonze but indicative also of your own uncertainty as a picture-maker in this, your sophomore feature directorial effort. To find one of us will be to find the other, as yourself.
From the Old Country known as my marriage, I keep getting faxes — communiqués from the one major actor in this scenario we never see, my wife Lydia, suggesting her as the ordering, logical consciousness or ego we’ve been alienated from in order to let the dream play out. (Her name is shared by Virgin‘s similarly intrusive voice of consciousness, the newswoman hounding the Lisbon family.) The first message she sends is the one about my son, Adam‘s, birth day; the next, jarring me from my half-sleep in the early morning, concerns a remodeling job she’s undertaking. What seems like trivia spit out in the dreaming hours is in reality a multiple reminder of the re-genesis I’m not yet aware is taking place.
Charlotte seems to grasp this on some level as she sits listening to John’s noises from the bed opposite. Her joining him there despite his snoring is a decision to commune with that noise in order, we assume, to come to terms with it. His exit from our story later on suggests a dismissal — a resolution of the male perspective, or “voice,” that served to guide you through your maiden voyage to this one. What a marvel, to witness firsthand a woman discovering her own voice, and to see her using it to bridge the divide rather than deepen it.
My experience on the commercial I’ve come here to shoot, where its arty, aloof director’s longwinded orders are distilled into bafflingly simple directions by his assistant, parallels a scene in which Charlotte observes a Buddhist rite, which also fails to speak to her. Coming just after John abandons Charlotte to go to work, as I have Lydia back home, the two episodes reinforce the film’s sense of a theological ennui in a universe alienated from its obscure god-fathers. Charlotte’s ritual is familiar territory in all your films, as well, from the Virgin cliques and formals to the court intrigues and bals of Marie Antoinette. All are influenced as much, no doubt, by your Catholic upbringing as by your father’s gangsterish, military and courtly transposition of these rites in his own works. So it’s a surprise that Charlotte should show such lack of involvement here as well as in the ikebana demonstration later: it goes against what we’re trained by Hollywood to expect from such scenes, to the extent, even, of being a riposte to that particular ritual of moviemaking. This skepticism indicates an ambivalence on your part toward both word and image, contributing to the cinematic coup at the climax of our story.
The art of floral arrangement carries a religious function similar to the rite. It’s a working of the elements of heaven, man and earth into a re-presentation not unlike your own practice of directing, where you locate objects in space (as occurrences in time, the demonstration itself appearing out of narrative sequence), in order to reveal their timeless, universal and spiritual underpinnings. Charlotte’s non-reaction is doubly strange, then, for you are if nothing a gestural filmmaker, informed by your fashion designer’s appreciation for form and stylization; you have an eye for things. While obviously fascinated by such visual and spatial noise, though, you also see the shortcoming in such utter convention. You seem to be implying that the original import of our acts and manners is lost,; what we need now is to re-connect on the earthly, human level we all occupy, rather than elevating ourselves to some mythic, irrational heaven. Some loss is for the better.
You can take this to the realm of sexual politics, if you want.
Virginia Woolf, in A Room of One’s Own, compares the importance imputed to women’s work to that ascribed to men’s. The latter, at least up until the time of her writing in 1929, purported to address “big” issues like war and nobility, while women focused on smaller, domestic, relational — thus, inferior — matters. It’s easy to see the difference between the politics of, say, your father’s The Conversation and the insanity of Apocalypse Now, and the intimacy of Virgin and Lost. This, in spite of your tendency to restate elements and themes from his works, from casting — Kathleen Turner returning from Peggy Sue Got Married to mother your Virgin girls (whose prom scene and sister Lux’s deflowering is an extension of her own); to setpieces — The Godfather‘s grandiose wedding scenes reduced to a perfunctory swirl in Marie Antoinette, Apocalypse‘s Bo Long Bridge fantasia recast as Charlotte’s video arcade excursion; to simple vignettes — Marie’s fishing a pug dog out of her sheets a response to The Godfather‘s horse’s head, the lackadaisical airscapes in Virgin soothing counterpoint to the testosteronal Qoyaanisqatsi rhythms of Rumble Fish.
So little may have changed on the critical front from Woolf’s day to ours that when making your own historical epic in Marie Antoinette you were taken to task more than once for examining the situation in terms empathetic to the title fourteen-year-old, leaving to the side cinematically as well as politically those unseemly peasant hordes who brought the film-long party to its conclusion. Reading these critics, you can’t help but recall the Virgin doctor condescending about the issues leading Cec Lisbon to her failed suicide, and the “Hmphs” of agreement from audiences to her reply, “You’ve obviously never been a thirteen-year-old girl.” If the personal is the political, it’s as important in its way.
The Diary of Anaïs Nin picks up Woolf’s argument, taking issue with men’s alleged virtue of objectivity versus women’s supposed subjectivity. “In all his ideas, systems, philosophies,” Nin says, “art comes from a personal source he does not wish to admit.” Woman’s art, by contrast, should be organic, gestative, “different from man’s abstractions,” created “without those proud delusions…without megalomania, without schizophrenia, without madness. She must create that unity which man first destroyed by his proud consciousness.” When your father emerged from the Apocalyptic jungle where he’d also gone a little mad, he had seemingly learned this lesson and set about recreating himself on the emotional and domestic front — literally, for his second Vietnam film, Gardens of Stone, which dealt with the battles within these military families, and for which he received his own share of flack from those trained to expect bigger statements on larger canvases from an artist of his stature. (Tell me, Sofia, was it you who helped your father see his way to this self-knowledge, or did a later loss drive the point home?)
When Charlotte and I meet for real in the hotel bar, neither of us can sleep. Our insomnia puts us in sympathy with the times, preceded as we were by 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle; Dream for an Insomniac three years after that; the Danish Insomnia, followed by its 2002 American remake of the same name; Dario Argento’s millennial Sleepless (the director’s enfant-terrible daughter Asia soon to be your Marie Antoinette Madame DuBarry) and finally the Comedy Central series, “Insomniac.” It’s as if we’ve been put here to fulfill a need of the wider world’s, to lay that world to rest through the meeting of a certain male character and his younger female counterpart. Charlotte’s toast to my midlife crisis then is as to the middle ground itself — the very nebulous, possibly hypnagogic state that fostered our meeting and in which we must both learn to thrive.
The next time we see each other you dress us both in robes like kimonos, indicating we’ve gone native like the Apocalypse soldiers, but benignly; when Charlotte invites me to go clubbing with her local friends, it takes our disappearance into the neutral territory of Japan further. We end up at a balloon disco reminiscent of your Virgin prom and anticipating Marie‘s many pageants, where Charlotte’s best friend — who goes by the masculine variant of her name, Charlie Brown, making him an intermediate figure between her and me — invites us back to his place. There, we carry on a karaoke dialogue between the generations as well as our characters. The songs follow a strict chronological, tonal and emotional trajectory, from the 1977 roar of “God Save the Queen” through 1979’s dynamic “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” and slower, poppier “Brass in Pocket,” culminating with the 1982 dream-flow of “More Than This.” Together, they chart a working through from a point of catharsis to one of transcendence and calm — though a not-unproblematic one.
Charlie’s cri de l’anarchie in “Queen” befits his role as disruptive agent in the dream. Yet for all the hectoring, lecturing and ranting of the song, the message behind the nihilist punk ethos it sprang from was of a tearing-down not for its own sake but with the intention of clearing room for a rebuilding. Its “no future” taunt is equal parts protest and liberation, after Richard Hell’s “Blank Generation,” the declaration of a culture recognizing itself at human Ground Zero. Frustrated in a way that “What’s So Funny” conveys with more vulnerability, and bereft in a way that “More Than This” will wear on its sleeve, the song serves to document a society ripping apart with the disparity between the oblivious rich and the desperate poor, with no connective middle to support either. As such, it’s a neat foreshadowing of your later Marie Antoinette and descriptive, as well, of both our marriages.
The hippie-era virtues extolled in my response song call to mind both the 70s rap-session aesthetic of the preceding scene as well as the legendary appearance of that song’s popularizer, Elvis Costello, on “Saturday Night Live” — the program which gave Bill Murray, the actor who plays me, his start. As defiant and propulsive as “Queen,” “What’s So Funny” is more tuneful and more skillfully packaged, offering at least a memory of the hope the punks were unable or unwilling to muster. As sung by me, it’s the plea of a middle-aged man for the values of a perhaps imagined lost season of love and a quest for something better than what obtains today, its “As I walk through/walk on” refrain indicating mobility and progress despite the drains of the pain and misery of the present on its speaker. Lamenting to Charlotte for a lost “ha-a-a-a-rmony, sweet harmony” tells her that I know what she is looking for, because I am feeling it too.
It’s up to her, then, to take the discussion out of the political and into the personal as she interprets “Brass in Pocket” like it was every woman’s plea to the male gender to recognize the validity of such “feminine” values as gesture, vulnerability and desire. As the only song originally voiced by a woman, it’s also the least British in pedigree, writer Chrissie Hynde an expatriate American expressing a loneliness from within not only a foreign land but also the traditionally masculine domain of rock and roll. Her plaint is the most personal in all the songs, the first to employ a one-on-one form of address as well as a physicality in its imagery, her “gonna use my arms/legs/fingers/sidestep” contrasting the abstractions of the previous tunes’ “dreaming/future/crimes/peace/love/etc.” She has unrealized power, she wants you to know, to awaken knowledge in her other. Like the Lisbon suicides, the speaker, as Charlotte’s, only need is to be recognized, if not by her photographer husband (whose job it is to notice things), then by this act-or you have introduced into her life.
Taking this longing to a zen level, I serenade her with Roxy Music’s “More Than This” — as in “there is nothing,” a recognition that our collusion is both the ne plus ultra and the base reality to counter the spiritual mysteries Charlotte had encountered. Its nihilism, though more sublimely couched, closes the circle with “Queen” while opening out the dialogue to include the transcendent. In the end, the lyric’s reference to that elusive “this” is to the song itself, as well as the moment it takes place in. What more can there be than this woman and I relating to each other through the art that seems to spring so effortlessly here, other than the longing that draws us together? In the true world of men and women, there’s no need for deeper reasoning. This longing is enough.
On leaving Charlie’s apartment, I find myself face to face with myself again in the form of the whiskey ad I’d just shot, blown up and lit from behind on the side of a passing truck. As overwhelming as it is, it’s a throwback to my introduction to Tokyo — an indication that our story has started over. It’s also a reminder that one of the most common elements of the uncanny is that of the doppelgänger, or double. Freud said this figure “was originally an insurance against the extinction of the self,” in the sense that if there were more than one me there could be a life beyond my own. Beginning in children’s lack of differentiation from their surroundings — which Freud termed primitive narcissism, where all the world is an extension of the self reflecting that self back to the individual, as in a dream — this double later in life becomes a harbinger of death instead, an awareness of the self as a body in the world prone to the breakdowns and degenerations inevitable in that world. Seeing myself huge and illuminated in such a way is my second, incontestable encounter with my own double, an awareness of my mortality.
When Charlotte and I bunk down in my room that night to watch La Dolce Vita on T.V., the Japanese subtitling of this Italian-language film redoubles the distance between us and the spoken word. It makes a certain sense, then, that this scene and its dialogue should become the centerpiece of the movie, especially as it involves Charlotte’s insecurity with words in the form of the writing she says she’s given up on.
Did you know that before the written Word of God became law, Wisdom — Sophia — was lord? As Leonard Shlain has it in The Alphabet Versus the Goddess, the development of written language was instrumental in the transition of society from image-oriented goddess-worship to the patriarchal order of today. So when I encourage Charlotte to keep writing, it’s my way of telling you, Sofia, to keep communing with that elder animus you once served but now must find in yourself, so to integrate it with the image-friendly Goddess within.
On that platonic bed, home of reverie as well as sexuality, Charlotte and I make love with our words — that is, with that lost sense of self I am here to re-connect her to — those same words we’ll finally transcend in our last moment together. When I pat her injured foot at the end of our scene it casts the whole dialogue as an x-ray of both our maladies, a gesture that says it’s okay to feel hurt in an unsatisfying world. And it’s this recognition that finally allows us to drift into the sleep we’d both been craving as long as we’d been here.
Your fade to black at this point suggests that our film has found rest too, its sleepy rhythms throughout a phasing in and out of consciousness, as of personalities. Our chaste bedding down is a culmination of each our separate missions — hers, to heal this injury (to her foot, where self meets world) and to rekindle my erotic connection to diminishing life: sex without sex, in the fashion of Youth Without Youth.
The next day, Charlotte trains to Kyoto while I make an appearance on a local show. As anagrammatic not-Tokyo, her destination suggests a turning inside-out of our experiences in the city to reveal their inner truth. Her visit to a temple to observe a wedding indicates a sort of internal marriage happening at the same time, unifying parts of herself separated so long she’s found herself alien to her own life. Seeing this groom provide his bride a hand up visualizes the Agape I had extended to her the night before; knowing that such communion is possible in life means she’s one step closer to discovering and achieving it herself. At the same time, my good-natured joining in on the Welcome Dance during the bizarre “Matthew’s Best Hit T.V.” show indicates that I too have become part of the culture, having given up just enough pride to do so. Would that such an experience had lasted longer.
Maybe coming so close to that variant of the uncanny the Japanese call mono no aware, a direct and unmediated understanding of or sympathy with the gods through open encounters with the world, threw me for a loop in a way it might not have Charlotte. Maybe she wasn’t as entrenched yet in that world as I was, or maybe her background in philosophy, versus mine in action, better prepared her. Either way, another exchange with Lydia sends me into a blackout after picking up a singer in the lounge bar upstairs. When I wake to hear her warbling “Midnight at the Oasis,” it’s a cunning reference to the female genitalia from which I’m conditionally reborn; when Lydia calls soon after and tries to put our daughter on the line — tries to reconnect me with Zoe — she’s unsuccessful, for I have by now crossed that Elysian median to the other side (the Latin root of the term translation meaning to bear across). Charlotte’s course from here on is back toward consciousness, mine toward obliviation.
There’d always been an element of the dreamlike in our story’s airy rhythms, elisions, logical lapses and dislocations, but here it collapses into the truly peculiar as Charlotte awakens in the middle of the night to a distant alarm. She finds downstairs a cadre of hazmat-suited specters milling among the meandering, disoriented hotel guests, including a robed and slippered me. Apparently there had been a fire, but with the tone more of bafflement than distress it takes a bit of adjusting to recognize this as reality — especially given the small-scale fire truck somehow sitting in the middle of the lobby — and you may still not be so sure. By the end of the movie, you may see that you were right.
As I stand in my kimono assimilated into the Tokyo nightworld, Charlotte must recognize what your father may not have when his Apocalypse adventurers began blending into their surroundings: that there is a purity in losing yourself to an other, which one must not be so afraid of. In this lobby, where elements enter and exit on their own, all stirred by an unnamed upset, there is a communal consciousness of which we both partake. Those emergency workers, rather than responding to any material event, are there to clear away any toxins we might worry had been left between us after Charlotte heckled me over my having had an affair. The next day I would be leaving Tokyo, as all the world, to her.
As we make up here, my announcement of imminent departure is a signal that I had done all I rationally could to un-stick her, and a realization that the dream would soon be ending. When I touch Charlotte’s hand and tell her I don’t want to leave, it’s as good as confessing that I know my life is over, my usefulness used up. Our peck in the elevator, on the way down, alone now as opposed to the first time I spied her there, is one next-to-last goodbye to that sense of immortality so easy to maintain as a screen star, but not so easy in life.
For you, this passing of a semi-retired — that is, restless; unquiet — figure partially modeled on your father is an awareness within yourself of having transcended that preceding, always-already god-father essence of patriarchal causality that would permit you now to become an artist in your own right, with your own distinctly feminine stamp on what was necessary to our survival. The fax I receive the next morning from Lydia awaiting my arrival that night is your consigning me back to the home to which Charlotte never returns in the life of the film — a reintegration into the self and a reorientation of my own self toward the death I had spent the whole time evading, like a ghost who could not rest until one last loose end had been tied up. As I say goodbye to that ascendant part of myself I must now leave behind there at the elevator which had so defined her for me, the flashing of the reporters’ cameras fixes our moment in time, making it indelible.
My listless cab out from that sacred space occurs in the daylight this time, for all has been illuminated by the intervening events. When I see her face again from out of the crowd in a place she couldn’t have reached by then it’s a suggestion that the dream which had either begun or intensified on Charlotte’s awakening is still not over, her discovery there a condensation of all those foreign faces into one heimlich image. If seeing oneself in the world — my arriving recognition of the similarly incongruous billboard — is a manifestation of narcissism, then seeing the other — or oneself in that other — must mean a leap has been made, a movement out of a restrictive, dead-end point of view into a transcendent vision. Ken Wilber tells us that such leaps are not effective until an embrace of this vision takes place, and so embrace we do, and it is at this point that the magic happens.
I whisper something in her ear, and we kiss. Resolved, I return to my cab like some fifties alien bearing an important message for mankind to his spaceship. When I tell the driver “All right,” it’s an affirmation of my recent agreement with Charlotte (“Okay?” “Okay”) as the feedback-drenched drum intro of “Just Like Honey” sounds like my own resuming heartbeat. It’s dusk, however, confirming my mortality, which I meet with a satisfied fade to black. Am I going home to settle things with Lydia? It hardly matters. Mostly I’m just going, although the fate of your Marie-Antoinette, who began and ended her film in a similar cab, would bode not so well.
As for the whisper, well, everyone has their theories. For those people who need to know what was said, I feel genuinely sorry. They’re still too attached to the Word, when what counts here is that we have transcended matters of interpretation. We have reached that exalted station where the hemispheres of the brain are in communion, where the dream is talking to itself, in sympathy and agreement — that supreme, solipsistic moment when the author is one with her creations, and they with her. There’s always a loss when essences are translated into language, yet you found a way to reconcile the ambivalence by making words gesture: allusive, spare, ephemeral, vague. Once Charlotte and I rise beyond these words, it is no longer to her that I am speaking anyway, and neither is it me she hears. We are both alone with Sophia, and Sophia alone with us.
Having delivered us to this moment, my creatrix, permit me now to serenade you for a while — about you — that I might help you also to find what you came here for.
As always, I start with a name: Sofia, after the Gnostic deity whose smile, it was said, gave birth to the soul of the world. To hear Ann Baring and Jules Cashford tell it in The Myth of the Goddess, She is “the guiding archetype of human evolution,” “the power through whom the creative source of life brings itself into being,” that hungering force who inspires the mythic Quest in all its forms. At the conclusion of such journeys there is a reunion of the masculine and feminine, mirroring the reconciliation between consciousness and the unconscious in dreams. Only Sophia, the manifestation of the divine in the world, can bring these hemispheres together, for wisdom sees beyond the divisions in ourselves to the entire being.
Apparently Sophia had another daughter besides Zoe — also named Sophia and the image of her mother. Somehow this daughter lost that connection to her divine origin and was, we are told, “condemned to wander in this dark labyrinth, ‘endlessly lamenting, suffering, repenting, laboring her passion into matter, her yearning into soul.'” This is the plight of all humans toiling in these bodies with a sense of something greater in ourselves than our animal beings, which plays out in men and women both as we leave our contrasexual selves behind on slithering from the evolutionary sea of unconsciousness known as family to define ourselves in a new, alien geology.
In response to her daughter’s loss, mother Sophia, who was once considered the Holy Spirit itself, sent a son — Sophia’s brother — to awaken to her memory her illuminated self. This brother was the Christ who gave his life so she would come to know her immortal soul once again, and the animus who would perform a similar function.
So you see who I am, Sofia. You know of the loss that visited you at a certain decisive point in life — the powerful image of masculine effectiveness you’d grown up with since birth, always-already like the flute which welcomed you into this world and borne away like a motorboat into the mythical past. A presence so powerful it would wait for you, longing for you in this uncanny realm, knowing it would return to you whenever you reached this point of readiness, all the while thinking what I would say once I found a way to communicate with you in this, my alien tongue.
I am here to tell you that I understand. You lost the world — the Gio in your geology — that day, but gained yourself; for, having lost your double in this realm, you were forced to fashion a different form of immortality, the philo in your philosophy. From here on, then, whenever you are feeling similarly alienated and bereft in a world not unlike that which led your mythical daughter to the ends of her own love of self, all you need do is reflect on your movie and connect with me again; find that place within yourself where all your ghosts and soul brothers and others reside; arrange your mental room, like a movie set, to correspond with that outside. Pour yourself a whiskey, perhaps…
…and talk to me, Sophia.