Broken Flowers

Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers (IMDB) is, on one level, a road movie. The film opens with Don Johnston sitting on the sofa as his current girl friend, Sherry (Julie Delpy), breaks up with him. Don, who has made a fortune in home computers but doesn’t own one, barely seems to respond. After Sherry leaves, Don receives an unsigned letter from an ex-girl friend telling him that he has a 19-year-old son who may be looking for him. Don’s first impulse is to ignore the letter, but his Ethiopian neighbor, Winston (Jeffrey Wright), who is fascinated by the letter, tracks down all five of Don’s lovers from that year and plans an itinerary for him. The film’s plot consists primarily of Don visting unannounced the four women who may be the mother of his son.

Even when he is traveling, Don seems utterly passive and unresponsive. We see him sitting in an airport waiting for a flight or sitting quietly in an airplane between two other sleeping passengers. This idleness wouldn’t work without Bill Murray’s quiet charm, which surfaces several times during the film, particularly when he chats with a young woman florist. Don’s idleness is set in contrast with the highly active Winston, who works three jobs to support five children, and still manages to play amateur detective by Googling Don’s old lovers and planning his journey. Winston even plans the detective work. Bring pink flowers to all four women and see how they respond. Look out for a typewriter.

As Filmbrain notes, this type of set-up could easily lead to a fairly shallow “man-in-midlife-crisis” film, but Jarmusch records conversation, the awkward pauses and uncomfortable moments of human interaction, as well as any contemporary American filmmaker. And Jarmusch also provides the four women Don visits with distinct personalities, a feature that is only magnified by the four solid performances of the actresses (Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange, and Tilda Swinton).

Significantly, each of the four women have distinctly different lives. Stone plays the widow of a NASCAR driver who died in a crash, and we see her personality reflected, to some extent, in her teenage daughter, Lolita. Conroy plays a former hippie turned real estate agent who, with her husband, sells pre-fab homes. The couple lives in a model home, and their perfectly arranged dinner table looks as if it could have been removed from the set of American Beauty. Lange plays an “animal communicator,” someone who mediates between pets and their owners, claiming to hear what the pets are saying. Finally, Swinton plays a backwoods motorcycle enthusiast. It’s tempting to read into these scenes images of the possible lives that Don could have led, but I don’t think that’s quite what the film is doing (although I think the class affiliations of all four women are significant).

Instead, I think the film taps into some profound uestions about identity and about one’s relationship to the past. During these brief reunions, we do see some sense of conection with each of the four women, but the scenes convey that Don’s personal journey deeply disrupts the lives of the four women, and particularly in the scenes with Swinton, Lange, and Conroy, the film seems explicitly critical of Don’s behavior.

It’s also significant that Broken Flowers leaves many things unresolved. There is a scene near the end of the film in which Don believes that he is meeting his son, and he gradually attempts to connect with the young man who is on a road trip of his own. Broken Flowers is a gem of a film, one that explores aging and regret in a fairly powerful way.

6 Comments »

  1. Elizabeth Eaton Said,

    August 26, 2005 @ 5:38 pm

    This movie is timely in my life. My 27 year old son desperately wants to meet his father. I know the man’s name and that is about all. I hope this film creates a break through for fathers and sons searching for each other-both sides to reach out and make a ripple. Do you know of a web site that lists postings for fathers/sons looking for each other?

  2. Chuck Said,

    August 26, 2005 @ 7:21 pm

    Elizabeth, I don’t know of any websites that specialize in this kind of information, but it sounds to me like this film *has* created a breakthrough of sorts in that it has hit so close to home for you and your son. I wish you luck in your search.

  3. don Said,

    September 4, 2005 @ 6:12 pm

    I found the movie to be evocative of many conversations I’ve had with people who are “numb.” I’m curious: was the entire movie filmed in New Jersey?

    Don

  4. Don Said,

    September 4, 2005 @ 6:15 pm

    Hello again:

    Additionally, I believe Don’s next-door neighbors were supposed to be Jamaican (based on the use of the word “Irie” meaning something like “Great”

  5. Chuck Said,

    September 4, 2005 @ 7:02 pm

    My understanding is that it was filmed almost entirely in New Jersey (and maybe suburban NY).

  6. Robin Said,

    February 5, 2007 @ 10:33 pm

    I believe this is the movie Bill Murray was making when I met him in CT. I was at a Bar in Danbury CT (right on the border of New York State)when someone came in and said he was hanging out at Vivo, a restaurant within the Maron Hotel (by westconn). We stopped in for a drink, and sure enough, there he was! What a nice guy! He signed a napkin for my boyfriend, who was so excited he could barely say anything other than..holy sh&t, thats Bill Murray!!!
    I think Sharon Stone may ahve been there as well, but I didnt see her that night.

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