Stillwater, or What Really Happens if You are “Lost in Translation”

Darling, Stillwater is an excellent movie. But not for all the reasons you think it might or might not be excellent.

The part about the daughter we shall pass over and concentrate on the very short scene of Matt Damon driving with his sunglasses on in his pick-up at the start of the movie, and then a later, parallel scene of him driving with his glasses on…. then the camera pulls back and you see him in dinky, French transport van. This. Darling, is more of a lesson of how people DO NOT CHANGE with their surroundings than any lecture I might give you.

Or rather, what changes when people move overseas is impossible to predict.

Bill is a man who works with his hands, but that is more than the type of jobs his skill set allows – it is who he sees himself as: the man in sunglasses driving a truck. Put him in Rio, Manitoba, Novosibirsk or Tokyo he will find sunglasses and a truck. This part will never change.

But other parts will, which is why the scene at the end of the movie when he opens the cupboards, pulls out can of ground coffee and pours some into a filter in a coffee machine is heart-breaking. That part of him changed; he (slowly!) learned something new about food and drinks, especially coffee. And now that he is home, he will never have those tastes again.

Thus is “home” no longer “home.” And Stillwater earns its sudden statement-then-black-screen ending.

War movies explain this perfectly (see The Hurt Locker  –  Renner, cool in the face of an unexploded bomb, loses his will to live in the cereal aisle) but few regular-people movies do. There are so many Heart of Darkness (The Beach, etc.) examples of people going to pieces in new locations that a movie like Lost In Translation got over-praised. Rich people in nice hotels suffer disorientations. Sigh.

As person who has lived overseas for almost two decades (two continents, three countries) disorientation is much worse than Lost in Translation but some people never have it.

After the Wedding is kind of the anti-Stillwater. A woman learns her affection for and connection to the foreign country she has lived in for a long time is neither reciprocated and nor as important as ‘home.’ All the brouhaha about becoming a new person or her authentic self was nonsense and she can shrug off years of living overseas as easily as taking off a scarf. Indeed, that’s how it is for some people – ten years aboard and there is no discernible change in their personality.

But most alter in an unpredictable way and fight to find a way bring what they have learned to bear in a new place. In Sweetness in the Belly a woman is forced to return ‘home’ to a country she doesn’t know and slowly finds a way to meld two cultures by insisting of following the rules of communal living that she was raised while living in individualistic society.

Disorientation can be cute things like being served chocolate sauce on top of an egg and cheese crepe or giving someone a bouquet with roses and them asking you why you didn’t spray the roses with perfume so that the bouquet would smell nice. Or disorientation is Matt Damon’s character sitting on his front porch, looking at a landscape he has seen for decades that is suddenly alien.