Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

Broken Flowers

I had a strange experience while watching Jim Jarmusch's new film, Broken Flowers. For the majority of the film as Don Johnston (Bill Murray) bounces from ex-lover to ex-lover in search of the son he has just learnt about, I was bored, waiting for it to end, irritated by the pointless nature of it... but then, at the very end of the film I suddenly found that I had all these questions and observations in relation to the film that has made my opinion of it a lot more favourable.

I will be writing about this end at some length, I might add, mostly because it is what makes the film interesting. So, if you haven't seen the film, and you want to do so, now is the time to stop reading.

Broken Flowers marks a different kind of film from Jarmusch. It is a film that is, in many ways, a lot less complex than his previous films, and one that is firmly set within America, though it lacks any exploration of America itself. What the film does centre on is the tracksuit wearing just past middle aged Don Johnston who we first find sitting on a couch, watching an old film about Don Juan while his girlfriend leaves him. It's a heavy handed introduction and makes the use of Heart of Darkness in King Kong look subtle and one that Jarmusch, who has used this technique before, ought to have skipped out on this time around. At any rate, as Johnston's girlfriend leaves, a pink envelope is delivered, and inside it is an anonymous letter from one of his old girlfriends who, shortly after they broke up, realised that she was pregnant and had their child, a son. The letter is unsigned, does not have a readable postage mark, and is essentially anonymous. Thus, with the planning assistance of his neighbour, Winston, who just happens to be looking for ways to write detective fiction before Johnston reveals the letter, the two plan for the recently dumped Johnston to go and visit four ex girlfriends who could have had this child.

Those meetings are shallow and dull, for the most part. Sharon Stone as the one-step-above trailer park mum with a daughter named Lolita who, when she appears naked, looks really quite legal, is the most interesting, but that's not saying much. Frances Conroy is a boring (oh how boring) real estate agent who may or may not be in an abusive relationship. Jessica Lange is another boring woman who talks to animals and who may be involved in a relationship with her younger secretary. And Tilda Swinton is the trashy woman who lives on a run down farm with her mullet owning boyfriend who, eventually, punches Murray out. None of these meetings take much time, and in each of them, Murray looks for evidence of the letter instead of simply saying, "Hi, I recently received a letter about a son, do you reckon you sent it?" Consequently, a lot of the meetings work on their awkwardness, or a garden variety of strangeness, such as Jessica Lange's ability to talk to cats. They are, as a whole, shallow experiences, but it's not until the end of the film that you learn that this is actually the point.

While also on this trip, Murray passes single young men who are traveling, and begins to suspect that one of these might be his son. Eventually, the climax of the film arrives when Murray buys lunch for a young man who he believes is his son. But before I get to that, there is the moment when Murray returns home and finds a second pink letter, handwritten this time, from the girlfriend who left him at the start of the film. This letter opens up the possibility that she wrote the first one as a prank, while Murray's meetings with ex girlfriends have left two possibilities, one with Francis Conway and the other with Tilda Swinton. The young man Murray buys lunch for, in addition, has a pink tie around his bag, put there by his mother for luck. It is this that brings Murray to confront the boy and tell him that he is his father. The boy then runs off, thinking, of course, that Murray is a wacko. There is a short chase and Murray loses him. He ends up standing on a street where a car passes him and a young man looks out, and there is something, just something about the guy looking out that suggests that he might be the son--

And then the film ends.

Suddenly, without warning, technically before you learn a thing, the film ends. No answers, just questions, an end. But it is this end that throws the entire film into perspective, and leaves you wondering what has happened. Has he met his son? Was there a son? Does it even matter? Is the point of the film rather to explore than Murray, the aging Don Juan, is in fact an empty shell of a man, living in a cold and silent house that is contrasted by his friend Winston, who lives with his five children in a house full of life? Does that then mean Murray is searching for a part of that he can call his own? Is it, rather, that the film is a nihilistic exploration of the detective genre, in which Jarmusch instead ponders that for the everyday individual, there can be no solution to these quests, that in fact the search, the picking over of tiny details, the analysis of every corner of their life is, ultimately, futile and without meaning? Perhaps nihilism is the wrong word for that, but still, my point is that the film, once it is over is a whole lot more interesting than the experience of watching it, which is an interesting trick, to reward your audience so late for staying with you. I'm not sure that it makes Broken Flowers a good film, and it's certainly not one of Jarmusch's best, but it does make it somewhat more interesting than the original premise promises.

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