top of page
  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

eFilmcritic Archive: "Broken Flowers" (2005)

“Broken Flowers” tells the story of a man pursuing a likeness of himself. Little does he know he has been on this pursuit his whole life, but only when an anonymous note arrives at his doorstep from a woman claiming to be the mother of his illegitimate son does he reluctantly backtrack to see his life’s effects on those he once knew. It’s a mystery to him as to who this woman might be, but she claims the son in question has just turned 19. It could be any one of five women, maybe more. As the search goes on, he finds the saddest of all truths regarding introspection: He has left little to no impression on any of these people.

Bill Murray plays Don Johnston, a bachelor in his early fifties whose girlfriend Sherry (Julie Delpy) has just walked out of his life. He receives the anonymous note regarding his long lost son and gives it to his neighbor, an aspiring detective named Winston (Jeffrey Wright) who takes an active interest in the note and treats it like an important piece of a crime scene to be investigated in a forensic lab. Winston takes the information on this note along with a list of possibilities as to who the woman might be. He maps out a roadtrip and urges John to take it.

His first stop brings him to a woman named Laura (Sharon Stone) and her scantily clad young daughter, Lolita (Alexis Dziena). Next, he travels to a far off suburban landscape where he reunites with Dora (Frances Conroy) where she lives a sterile, anal retentive existence with her husband. He then makes his way to Carmen (Jessica Lange), who works as an animal communications expert. Within these encounters, Don must ask every woman if she owns a typewriter. If so, she may be the one who mailed him the note. He also shows up to every encounter with a bag of flowers as a peace offering, which at times proves fruitless.

There are other women in the film, but I’d prefer not to give too much away. As his journey progresses, the search for his son’s mother almost becomes secondary. Don can see that the women in his life—who refer to him as a “Don Juan” of sorts—have moved on, grown up and have taken unpredictable directions in their lives. He has remained stagnant, letting opportunities for true love pass him by. The realization eventually catches up to him that he lives a ghostly existence and that any sort of likeness between himself and another person, be it a woman or a son, would somehow validate his existence. It’s not a pleasurable trip to take.

But writer-director Jim Jarmusch doesn’t lay the despair on thick. This is a painfully funny and deeply sad film that takes the viewer on an episodic journey with an anthological feel that Jarmusch excels at. It’s not unlike “Night on Earth or “Coffee and Cigarettes in that regard. It may also be the least stylized and self-consciously experimental of all his films. While not a complete success (the Lolita material seems cheap and well beneath Jarmusch’s capabilities), the movie manages to be accessible and engaging while also being potent and profound.

Murray, likewise, gives himself over to the material with a balancing act that finds him teetering between the melancholia of “Lost In Translation” with the dry sarcasm for which he has always been known. Some have criticized the casting of Murray suggesting he may be trying to gain another chance at Oscar glory. I don’t agree. I think Murray does what a lot of great actors do, using film as a way of discovering more about himself. He takes more serious-minded roles because he knows very well that his name alone cannot carry a straightforward comedy the way it used to. His quiet demeanor and refined expressiveness lend the movie a certain unpredictability to every scene. Because he does not clearly define who he has become, we await with great eagerness to see how he’ll react to every situation in which he finds himself.

Viewers may find themselves slightly frustrated, especially those looking for a clear, coherent payoff, but then life does not always work out the way you hope. In the end, the movie is about how you cast the roles of people who seem necessary to your surroundings. Don Johnston clearly lives in the moment and has lost all sense of life as a natural, ever-progressing journey. He has almost no one with whom he can share his life. The people who have shared with him have cast him out of their lives and that’s one of many painful truths this movie knows too well: The pain of being easily replaced and forgotten.

bottom of page