Broken Flowers, 2005.
Directed by Jim Jarmusch.
Starring Bill Murray, Christopher Lee, Sharon Stone, Jessica Lange, Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton, Julie Delpy, Frances Conroy, Christopher McDonald, Chloe Sevigny, Larry Fessenden.
As the extremely withdrawn Don Johnston is dumped by his latest woman, he receives an anonymous letter from a former lover informing him that he has a son who may be looking for him. A freelance sleuth neighbor moves Don to embark on a cross-country search for his old flames in search of answers.
Bill Murray has made a comfortable cinematic home for himself in the films of director Wes Anderson, but he’s also appeared in a few of Jim Jarmusch’s films, including his 2005 release, Broken Flowers. Jarmusch is one of those directors who doesn’t like to wrap up his stories with a pretty bow, and sometimes, well, stuff happens in his movies and that’s that.
In fact, in one of the bonus features on this new Blu-ray release of Broken Flowers from Kino Lorber, Jarmusch comes out and says, “I don’t know what they mean,” when talking about his films. If you’re looking for an uplifting story that ends on a shot full of soaring music and a close-up of a protagonist who has learned A Big Life Lesson, you won’t find it here.
What you will find is a road movie. Perhaps you could call it a quest film. Murray plays Don Johnston, a self-centered ladies man heading into the twilight of his life when his current girlfriend moves out. He’s not too distraught over the situation, since another woman is always in his immediate future, but the same day, an anonymous letter arrives informing him that he has a 19-year-old son who is looking for him.
Clearly unsure how to handle this news, Don does what anyone in his position would do: He turns to his neighbor Winston, who has settled down in life with three jobs and five kids but still has time to put his amateur Internet sleuthing skills to work. Remember, this is before Facebook became a thing, so it was a bit harder back then to nail down a solution to this kind of mystery.
However, Winston manages to put together a list of four of Don’s former girlfriends who he figures are the most likely letter-writing candidates and convinces Don to take a trip to reconnect with them and figure out the truth. Don sets out on his quest and discovers what has happened to his exes over the years, which includes one who has become an “animal communicator,” another who’s the widow of a stock car racer and has an overly flirtatious daughter, and one who lives among bikers and really hates Don.
The ending will likely be frustrating for anyone who was hoping for a clear resolution to Don’s situation, but I prefer to see Broken Flowers as a meditation on hitting middle age and trying to come to terms with a past littered with poor decisions. In the end, there might be a few fleeting moments of insight, but eventually, all any of us can do is move forward and hope for the best.
Kino Lorber calls this new Blu-ray release of the movie a “Special Edition,” but it’s simply a port of the original DVD, complete with a few brief bonus features that don’t lend any great insight into the making of the film. Perhaps that was intended as some kind of meta commentary on the movie’s theme. Or maybe nothing was meant by it at all.
The bonus feature with Jarmusch’s “I don’t know what they mean” quote is called Farmhouse, and it’s four minutes of behind-the-scenes footage with an obtuse interview with the director playing over it. It sounds like he was recorded from a phone call, which I suppose was his way of maintaining an air of distant mystery and leaving us wonder what that was all about. Just like his movie, right?
The other extras include outtakes from one of the scenes, the theatrical trailer, and Broken Flowers Start to Finish, which consists of eight minutes of clapboard shots and Murray’s on-set antics. When the longest bonus feature is nothing but a goof-fest, you know you aren’t going to get any major insight into the making of the movie, but, yeah, maybe that was the point since the film offers no great insights either.
To be clear: As a middle-aged guy who has done plenty of soul searching in recent years, I can relate to Don Johnston. Yes, I’m not talking about his romantic exploits – I’m talking about some basic navel-gazing “Is this all there is?” kind of stuff.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★