Connecting in a Spiritual Void

Filmmaker Sandi Simcha Dubowski on the characters' displacement and search for connection in 'Lost in Translation.'

Sandi Simcha Dubowski has become almost as well-known during the past several years as the movie he directed, "Trembling Before G-d." The film, a documentary about Hasidic and Orthodox Jews who are gay, premiered at Sundance in 2001, later was released in theaters, and continues to be screened at film festivals around the world.

Dubowski brought his awareness of the alienation and displacement felt by the people in his own film to a discussion of "Lost in Translation," the Oscar-nominated film by Sophia Coppola. The movie captures the friendship between two Americans, Bob (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), who meet in a hotel in Japan. Though they meet sleepless, displaced in a foreign country, and alienated by both the surrounding culture and their own loved ones, the relationship that develops in their short time together seems to leave Bob and Charlotte more hopeful about life.

You told me that you really identified with this movie. Can you tell me why?

We're living in a world of very few markers. As someone who has been traveling in a concentrated way for three years, I can completely identify with that discombobulation and dislocation as you move across all these cultural and religious and sexual way stations. I guess I feel like I'm sort of a global nomad.


Do you think there is something inherently spiritual about that experience--about being a foreigner, or about traveling in general?

During those moments of road loneliness, and the feeling that we're all moving from one tribal place to another, the world just seems kind of large and voluminous and massive. You're just this little dot that has been tossed and wandering. I was in Hong Kong with "Trembling" in December, and you know, especially in that part of the world, to be Jewish feels like such an anomaly. You feel, who are you and do you matter at all? You cling to people in different ways as you travel.

I think the normal ego supremacy of being in your world has to translate into some kind of humility in the face of others. That's the spiritual process. For me spirituality is about, in some ways, shattering your ego and letting it be open to breaking the normal pattern of everyday life and allowing insights to enter that wouldn't normally be present. But I think it takes a certain receptivity to the world around you, which gets heightened in sort of a spiritual experience.

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