Broken Flowers Moment by moment, frame by frame, Jim Jarmusch has made a small miracle in a time when such things seem impossible. I'm talking about his new film, Broken Flowers. I saw it and I liked it. I liked it a lot. I liked it more than I thought I would. I was even pleasantly surprised. Then, the next day, I was thinking about it, and now several days later, it still hasn't left my head.
Brief summary paragraph: Bill Murray stars as an aging Don Juan (named Don Johnston---with a T) who receives an anonymous letter in the mail (great tribute to the US Postal system by the way) from an old girlfriend at the same time that his current girlfriend is walking out the door. The letter informs him that he is the father of a nineteen year old son who might be coming to find him. His next door neighbor, Winston, an amateur detective encourages him to find the mother. Winston, played beautifully by Jeffrey Wright, even makes plane and hotel reservations for Don who sets out to find four potential mothers all living generic Americaville.
Don goes on a journey into his past to find the answer to the riddle of the pink letter. His ship is a crowded airplane and his horse is a rented Ford Taurus. Along the way, he is reunited with four women from his past while he looks for clues about his long lost son. Will he find his son? Does his son even exist? Will he shack up with one of the women?
On the surface, this story is basic dramatic writing---the man confronts his past, the man goes home, the man finds his family. The past haunts Don and moves the present action forward. These concepts are in Sophocles, Shakespeare, Ibsen, Chekhov, and straight into modern guys like Pinter and Shepard.
The past has power. It can send us into the eye of an invisible tornado and disable our present. It can make us inactive, stoic. It can seduce us. We can idealize the past, turn it into something it wasn't.
Have you ever met up with someone you haven't seen in a long time and felt they've completely changed? That person existed during a certain point in time, then was gone, then they appear again many years later.
On a recent trip to New York, I saw many old friends that I hadn't seen in a few years. With many of them, it felt like we just picked up where we left off. There was a warmth and a friendship still there. I also briefly met up with an old intrigue (mutual crush), and we had nothing to say to each other. His appeal to me was gone somewhere back in the past, and I kind of just stood there and left saying ‘I gotta go' with a shrug. I had to go somewhere else.
In the movie, Don visits the four women from his past with good intentions. He's polite, he brings flowers, he stays for dinner. However, they come off as incredibly unappealing. Whatever made them appealing in the past has turned into something grotesque in the present. Maybe he contributed to these transformations in some way. Either way, in the course of the film, he realizes that his present is not anywhere in his past.
When confronting a boy who might be his son, Don concludes that the past is over with, the future hasn't happened, so that only leaves the present. What is he going to do with his present? He can't keep obsessing about his past where every woman is a lover/potential lover and every young man is a potential son. Having reached that conclusion, he's found his way home. He's found his way back to himself.
Flowers don't really break. They simply look pretty when in bloom, then wilt away and die when their time is past. But there will always be new flowers.
So much has been said about Bill Murray, the great minimalist actor in the midst a career Renaissance. Yes, he's a long way from his Old Yeller speech in Stripes and ‘this chick is TOAST' in Ghostbusters. He's always struck me as the kind of guy who could get easily bored with lame ass material. However, when he's got a good director and script, he's there. To steal an image from All About Eve, it's like he's a piano with all the keys in tune. He's smart enough to know that he doesn't have to do a lot of work. The camera will pick up the small things. He doesn't have to be wild Bill. He just has to be present. Besides, someone who can sing the theme from Star Wars as a lounge act can do anything.
Don't you hate it when you go into a restaurant, order something that sounds interesting, and get a plate of Shrimp Fried Rice. It's baffling. It's absurd, but really, it's just Shrimp Fried Rice. Still, there's something strangely comic in the whole scenario. This movie might be Shrimp Fried Rice to many, but to me, it was one of those elaborate sushi rolls with all sorts of strange stuff (like sour cream and hot sauce) hidden inside it. Yeah, Jim Jarmusch and Bill Murray, they did all right with this one. They made a good roll.