Summer = good movies. At least that’s what we count on. Thankfully, this summer has so far proven to offer movie lovers some interesting choices both at the theater and, if you’re playing catch up like me, at your local redbox.
Excited to indulge in Sofia Coppola’s latest autobiographical film “Somewhere,” I braced myself for an evening of long takes, uncomfortable silences and extended sketches of “wealthy ennui” – all signature elements of Coppola’s narrative style and subject matter. But while her artistry is arguably at its best in this film, the story failed to leave me with the same satisfaction as did its predecessor.
“Lost in Translation” sustained itself in the balance of contradictions. As one critic put it: “It's a comedy about melancholy, a romance without consummation, a travelogue that rarely hits the road.” “Somewhere,” on the other hand, ends right where it begins, the opening scene a black Ferrari circling a racetrack and effectively winding up nowhere.
Perhaps Coppola intended the opener as a metaphor for the life of her protagonist Johnny Marco (played by Stephen Dorff). A successful Hollywood actor, Johnny lives the high life in a famed chateau/hotel that appears to meet every one of his desires, before he is even aware of them.
Instead of depicting the glossy celebrity life as seen from the outside (parties, friends, press attention, fan adulation, etc.) Coppola turns the lens inside out. A. O. Scott of the New York Times says it best:
"The tricky feat that Ms. Coppola pulls off is to convey the emptiness of Johnny’s situation without denying its appeal, and also without giving him more spiritual depth than would be credible…
Ms. Coppola illuminates the bubble of fame and privilege from the inside and maps its emotional and existential contours with unnerving precision and disarming sensitivity."
What you are left with in the end is the sketch of a man who is incredibly bored, lonely and empty, a life completely void of faith and, consequently, purpose. And as you wait in hope for a new dimension of the character to emerge, you realize that it’s not going to happen and that that is exactly the point: To enter into Johnny’s emptiness, and feel as trapped by it as he does. Until…
Enters Cleo, stage left.
Cleo (played by Elle Fanning) is Johnny’s eleven-year-old daughter. She’s a quiet, sweet, unspoiled and intuitive girl. Her grace and unconditional love for her father make her both captivating and endearing.
Cleo arrives to Johnny’s apartment unexpectedly and is forced to stay for an undetermined length of time. Initially unsure how to handle the situation, Johnny winds up incorporating Cleo into his life while remaining attentive to her in the sweetest ways. They fall into a routine, quietly enjoying each other’s company, though rarely allowing their bond to deepen past surface level.
The time comes for them to part ways when Cleo begins summer camp. Later that night, without Cleo there, Johnny’s emptiness becomes all the more apparent to him. In an uncharacteristic moment of anguish, he begins sobbing on his bedroom floor, desperately seeking companionship –no one coming to his rescue.
The next morning, he spontaneously packs his car and leaves instructions with the concierge to place the rest of his belongings in storage. Then, off he goes. But where to? With what purpose? The last scene has Johnny driving on a desert road when he suddenly stops, gets out of his car and begins walking, the rare beginnings of a smile creeping up the corners of his mouth.
What disappoints is the fact that the film loses credibility by leaving no real indication that a true awakening has taken place within Johnny. It’s hard to really believe that something profound had occurred allowing him to take the necessary steps to “find his way.” Will he finally begin to be the father he never was? Will he finally go in search of the One who always satisfies?
Despite his short moment of truth, you’re still left assuming that Johnny is simply out for a change of scenery and that eventually, he’ll find himself right back where he started- like a car driving in circles.
As Johnny walked off into the dessert, the parable of the rich young man came to mind. And though it’s highly unlikely that the character will go, sell [his] possessions…then come, follow [Him] (Matthew 19:21), the moment is nonetheless ripe. Yet in the end, Johnny’s newfound “hope” (if it can be called that) is unconvincing.
To its credit, the film certainly renewed in me a tremendous appreciation for the gift of faith and the hope that derives from it. In the words of Pope Benedict:
According to the Christian faith, “redemption”—salvation—is not simply a given. Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey. – Spe Salvi, Benedict XI
Perhaps the whole point is to leave us wondering where exactly Johnny Marco’s “Somewhere” is. Even so, in the end, Coppola delivers too little too late. And while the film shines stylistically, the attempt to capture the isolation and emptiness of celebrity life as an end onto itself proved far too hopeless a story to endure for 98 minutes.