Almost by accident I watched Broken Flowers, and the fact that I had 0 expectations I think, adds to how I think this is probably one of the best movies I’ve ever watched.
I came about it when I checked out Rotten Tomatoes for some reason or other, and happened onto a Bill Murray movies compilation, which of course I checked out and, having realized I had watched most of them, focused on those I hadn’t.
This is the part I describe Broken Flowers but it’s not gonna be easy. It’s the story of an aging Don Juan, Murray’s character cheekily named Don Johnston, who lives a fairly empty life after having done well for himself and gone through several, obviously failed, relationships.
Johnston never shows any frustration, regret or for that matter, joy in the way things have turned out for him though. Rather, he lives everyday pretty much the same, falling asleep in front of his fancy TV and stereo in his upper middle class home alone.
His one saving grace could be his best (and only) friend and neighbor Winston (Jeffrey Wright), who is his exact opposite. With 5 kids and 3 jobs to support them, he is a jolly person full of life. He is instrumental in the plot, where upon Johnston’s receipt of an anonmyous, mysterious pink letter from a former flame claiming she has a son by him, Winston forms an elaborate plan to find out who she is which involves visiting each one of his exes scattered throughout the States, as if from out of the blue, pink flowers in hand.
It’s a testament to Murray as to how he manages to play the aging lothario, a person so untouched and unaffected by anything he convinces the audience that sure, he’d go and do it even if he complains he’d rather not all the way. It’s not like he has better things to do, but he doesn’t want to anyway, although when he finally does he does so with just as much disinterested effort, inspite of the fact that you know doing such a thing – traveling all over the States and showing up at ex girlfriends’ houses after 20 years – must take a lot of work.
This is one of the reasons it’s hard to write about Broken Flowers. Murray’s character doesn’t make sense in the traditional movie – making style, but is identifiable regardless. I’d venture to say that Don Johnston, if not the movie as well, is interpretable differently depending on who and what the viewer’s opinion can be at any given point. It never hands you explanations as to why this is so and that is that. It carries out the story leaving you with question marks in your head, but inspite that you are satisfied that what is unravelling before is no doubt, real.
The only way to interpret this movie is by asking yourself what it means to you. And so for me, Broken Flowers struck me as not a movie, but as a reflection of life itself. Many times I’d realize some scenes were striking not because of some cinematic brilliance, but because I recognized it as a feeling or emotion I may have gone through, understood or pondered at at some point.
It may be an awkward silence amongst people around a table, or the feeling of vastness or loneliness whilst staring at a traffic light at a busy intersection. It can be the radiating heat you feel from a person you find difficult to be with, or the hilarity of a couple of girls yakking away at a bus. Obviously it’s not entirely all fun and laughter, but its a terrifically fulfilling feeling to feel that emotion nonetheless. Broken Flowers is a very real, emotionally strong movie, with its long quiet pauses and Murray’s terrific, understated acting.
I’m starting to learn more about the terrific Jim Jarusch, it’s director. This is a special kind of movie that demands the highest levels of work from its actors, and so while the star studded cast might be distracting because of the big names, I’m glad actors such as Julie Delpy, Sharon Stone, Jessica Lange and the great Tilda Swinton signed up because only they can pull something like this off.
Off the top of my head (I’m sure I’m missing out on more), I count Adaptation, Once, The Darjeeling Limited, another Murray starrer Lost in Translation and The Royal Tenenbaums as terrific slow paced, understated movies.
The first time I encountered this theme was with those Kurosawa classics I love so much, specifically in this case ‘The Tunnel’, one of the scenes in ‘Dreams’ which starts out slow but pretty much bursts in an emotional coming – to – terms in the end, much like those other films.
Movies like these make me feel very lucky to have found them and Broken Flowers makes me doubly so.