20th Century Fox

I turned the stile with my palm clenched, pointer finger on shuffle, and “long awaited sunset”-titled playlist reverberating through my eardrum.

I breathed a heavy sigh, waved at the circulation desk, and strutted to the DVD rental aisle. Though I had just checked yesterday, I shuffled through the New Arrivals, plucked a Blu-ray copy of Fight Club and shrugged my shoulders, sliding it into my backpack. I then sped through checkout, and left for the cage that I, for the moment, called home; real “home” was 73 miles away, ridden with childish memories, and at the time, worthy of an escape.

I gradually returned to my dust-tinted 2012 MacBook Pro on a birchwood table. Adjacent laid a stack of papers, a stapler, and a fruitless fortune of quarters. My eyes anxiously hesitated for a silver apple’s greeting as I slid the disk into my periphery. The disk’s cave growled at me, and rejected it twice, but I insisted that it let the DVD in.

Eventually, the silver apple passed and a golden “20th Century Fox” panned over with its familiar cacophony as I pressed fast-forward. I sat snug on my squeaky IKEA bed and grinned at my ever-present My Neighbor Totoro plush-doll smiling back at me. Volume was adjusted to an amplitude that I could hear but my housemates couldn’t. They weren’t sleeping, but I didn’t need them to hear me. 

##

At the sweet age of sixteen, I came to realize that the world can revolve around you, pulsating its entire weight on your shoulders, waiting for you to crash.

In that moment I was alone, living in an 816-square-foot cage, with my window blinds an aegis to the beautiful, isolating bubble of Princeton, New Jersey. This wasn’t anything like my past home, but rather a haven for the summer—a detachment from the paranoia of my past life, and a safe space for curiosity.

While my intentions for the summer of 2018 were entirely academic—to conduct research, to learn, and through it all, to smile—I soon found myself entrapped in something that, at the time, seemed much greater than myself.

When you envision living on your own for weeks on end, you think of the freedom—the calm walks back, the late nights out, the poor attempts at home-cooked meals, the nonexistent curfew, the endless adventure. But my attempt at escaping past restrictions let sounds that were once screams become inert silence. And this silence that, at first, came with serenity, made way for a stream of uncontrollable thoughts that flooded my mind. It was a tide that swept me off my feet and left me to drown, burying me in the sand and holding me underwater as I gasped for air.

Nevertheless, I trudged to the lab and back, lugging my DVD-player of a laptop with a slivered grin stapled to my face. I pressed my thoughts into the back of my head, and treated the aching, endless buzzing with ibuprofen. After five, I’d let my hair burn on walks through the familiar town, making pitstops at the same restaurants, pharmacies, and record stores—all en route to the public library.

Princeton Public treated me well, with an endless catalog of books I never finished, embellished study spaces, and most prominently, movies. It let my heart break with romcoms and mended it with the nostalgic soul of Studio Ghibli. And amidst this intangible world of despair I found solace in the stories found on disks. 

At once, I was a wallflower, lost in Japan, and almost forcibly, in love with a screen.

##

While all would be true at one point, the latter stuck me in an abyss that our century has conformed to. It just so happened that the copy of Her—despite its onerous overdue fees and overly predictable plot line—would birth my realization of my over dependence on technology. 

In the end, as an effort to escape the isolation, I found myself entrapped in LEDs. My soul burned in social media as I found my self-image pixelate with every scroll. My fingers wove code better than words in my journal. Bluelight was my alarm, caffeine, window, and friend. Yet, Her helped me find beauty in both the world around and about the screen. It pierced my heart with the ever-so familiar problem of love, and made me a Theodore—an introverted, discontent man—for more than a moment. Her watched me bleed my insecurities when I was most lonely, and kept me uncomfortable with its deceivingly unrealistic depiction of overdependence on technology. It broke me and realigned me with my humanity to the hymns of Arcade Fire and Aphex Twin.

I briefly deleted Instagram, Snapchat, and the all-too-familiar extended assortment of colorful icons. I patiently waited for a notification from Messenger and thought of the face behind the next text.

Some breakups are harder than you think.

##

Lost in Translation (2003)

Lost in Translation (2003)

Just a week after Her first appearance, Scarlett Johansson returned to my screen, but this time with blonde hair and a futile Yale degree; she had de-aged ten years and carried her audiobooks in cassettes.

Lost in Translation swept me off of my feet, insulted me, comforted me, and added a push pin to my “Map of Dream Vacations.” Inspired by a sample of the film featured in my summer anthem, “Rock + Roll” by EDEN, and a childhood recollection of my Dad’s uncharacteristic praise for it, I slid the scored DVD into the overheating gyroscope.

I watched my screen turn 480p and dissociated into the eyes of Bob Harris, the film’s neutralist. I had, for these 101 minutes, escaped the solitude of my beige-walled room, and smiled out of a BMW’s window, gazing at the 4 A.M. gleam of Tokyo. But even when dusk winced back at me through my blinds, my eyes remained still on the screen. The beauty of Lost in Translation lay behind its overt racism and in the closely shot, yet emotionally distant cinematography. In my eyes, Bob became a Theodore, as the film made way for his collision with the human incarnation of Johansson’s Charlotte— he was just another person “searching for their soul’s purpose.”

Lost in Translation was by no means cinematically revolutionary, but it split my mind between memories of my father’s preceding laughs and my feeling of constant isolation. 

It played “Girls” by Death in Vegas in my head a year later when roaming the streets of Shinjuku. And to this day it keeps me in bed, where my existential dread hears Bob say “You’ll figure it out. I’m not worried about you.” 

It let me rest well, yet kept me searching for the film’s final whispers.

It made me wonder: Where was I lost in translation?

##

The book lay flat, centered on my desk, so I guiltily reached over it for its cinematic adaptation.

Perks of Being a Wallflower was my sister’s rental request when I “wasn’t old enough to understand what it meant,” but evidently, old enough to remember the soundtrack blasting from her iPod Touch on repeat.

I guess she was right back then, but this time I was ready, and looking for any form of solace or inspiration.

So, I swiveled the DVD on my pointer finger, looking for acute rainbow glare; it refracted my desk lamp as I slid it into my MacBook.

While I have always been predisposed to coming-of-age films, Perks tattooed itself next to Boyhood in my mind, and rattled me with its layered blend of comedy, romance, drama, and subliminally personal connection to the teenage experience. For two hours at a time, it dragged me out of my asylum and back into the brick jungle of my high school.

When I think of Perks, I’m brought back to the moment where Charlie, staring parallel to the walls of a hollowed tunnel, whispers the words “I feel infinite.”

In that moment, like Charlie, I was at once with my friends, speeding across the freeway. I could then feel an omniscient camera pan over traffic lanes as my eyes candidly followed. I swear that I could feel the wind passing over the hood of the car; my heart pumping in rhythm with the lights blaring in the background, synchronized to the drums behind David Bowie in “Heroes.”

I was sixteen, and I am now eighteen.

Here, I sit in my Carman double recounting the summer I spent seven dollars and thirty cents on 43 movies and countless overdue fees.

Did I feel infinite?

I guess I feel it now.

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