Our Cinematic Autobiography: Broken Flowers
In 2005, Jim Jarmusch directed one of those “serious” Bill Murray movies that usually doesn’t involve much fanfare unless they happen to be helmed by Sofia Coppola and set in Tokyo with (allegedly) racist overtones. Broken Flowers was released post-Lost in Translation and is essentially a meandering yet episodic road-trip movie with the ever-deadpan Bill Murray as the main attraction. As I’ve mentioned several times in the past, I am an unapologetic devotee of Murray and will watch any film in which he appears — even Garfield as well as that endless stream of “quirky” Wes Anderson flicks — and generally follow a rule of re-watching one Murray movie per weekend. It just so happens that, for very personal reasons, Broken Flowers is one of my favorites, but it’s a dark movie that not every so-called Murray fan can handle.
Let’s just jump into this mess, shall we? In the movie’s pre-opening-credits sequence, we witness the trip taken by a fateful pink envelope — by road, by plane — which is not unlike the eventual journey of the main character, Don Johnston (Murray), who has made all of his money from computers yet refuses to let one inhabit his house. In fact, Don’s accrued so much bloody money that there’s no longer any need for him to work … or to do anything at all. We are often told that he’s a modern-day Don Juan (although these statements are hard to believe while witnessing Don’s current state of apathy) who enjoys his solitude from the rest of the world, save from his neighbor, Winston, and his wife and kids. In other words, Don’s my kind of guy. Or he’s a guy that’s a lot like me. Whatever.
As the movie begins, Don is receiving his walking papers from his latest girlfriend and simultaneously receives a letter from a lost lady love (one of many) who informs him that he has a secret, 19-year-old son who is now searching for his father. Of course, the letter’s envelope is typewritten and contains an illegible return address and postmark. So therein lies the mystery: who mailed the letter — Don’s latest girlfriend, Sherrie, his neighbor, Winston (who with three jobs and five kids might be aching for adventure himself), the universe (in a Buddhist sense of awakening), or was it legit? Winston insists that Don should embark upon a voyage and explore the possibilities of all ex-girlfriends who fit the applicable timeline. Don believes the letter is merely evidence of someone playing a trick on him and speaks of the pink note only in terms of a “hypothetical son.” At Winston’s urging (and planning), Don takes a trip to solve the mystery of which of his ex-girlfriends he may have impregnated; that is, Winston plans the itinerary, and Don takes the trip. To find himself. Or at least, to find something beyond sitting on his couch.
Eventually, Don begrudgingly consents to this journey (which is essentially one of self discovery) to search for that mythical thing that might give his life meaning. He visits four girlfriends (plus one in a grave) who fit the requisite time frame. As we meet Don’s ex-loves — which include Sharon Stone, Francis Conroy, Jessica Lange, and (an unrecognizable) Tilda Swinton — there exists a progressive sense of decline and loss of the past. Don doesn’t really have a “type,” does he? He’s a guy who seems to hook up with whatever woman will keep him from being lonely, but he’s afraid to commit his life to one lady for whatever reason. At the beginning of this flick, Don had resigned himself to being alone and has just barely given up on enjoying lifelong companionship until the letter (and Winston) had spurred him into (deadpan) action … at least, temporarily. This distinction between a trip that leads somewhere and a pointless voyage is quite important to the film’s resolution.
Now, I’m not a rich dude like Bill Murray’s character, and I definitely don’t have some mystery child floating around out there that I wasn’t aware of (which is kind of impossible since I’m female), but I have lived the life of a serial monogamist and have racked up my fair share of significant ex-lovers. And even though I’ve spent my life with lots of company (including a few that were husbands), all of these men have fallen by the wayside in one form or another. At this point, I see my romantic existence as a giant waste of time and energy as well as a source of disappointment. Like Don, my past is littered with the ambivalent wreckage of relationships past, and I often wonder if my current single state has a lot to do with the fact that I forsake those lovers who (genuinely?) claimed to love me. In short, I’ve spent nearly two decades dumping men with whom I could never see myself spending my life. Ironically, I now find myself alone — aside from an amazing 11-year-old daughter. Currently, there’s a dude that I am just beginning to fancy, but I inherently resist actually getting to know him for fear of perpetuating the inevitable hookup-like-love-dump cycle.
Should you feel sorry for me if you find yourself in the midst of what you consider to be a successful, presumably long-term relationship? No. In fact, I feel sorry for you for thinking your own current relationship will last. Because they all end. Every single one of them. And I feel sorry for you for feeling like you can’t interact with someone who’s in the midst of a divorce … as if divorce is “contagious.” That’s not experience or knowledge speaking from within you but, instead, absolute fear. In the end, we all end up alone, just like Murray’s character is alone. Eventually and after his odyssey is complete, Don truly realizes that the past is gone, the future isn’t here yet, and the present is all we have. Ultimately, that’s a rather Buddhist statement for a film to make, but it’s the truth of the matter. We all die alone, and there’s really no use in pretending otherwise.
Throughout the entire movie, Murray inhabits (or perhaps haunts) nearly every frame through stillness, passivity, and sadness as opposed to his usual comic self. Similarly, I live to make people laugh but often betray my own intentions and find a kindred soul in Murray’s performance here. If you’re into open-ended, introspective journeys that may not lead to anywhere in particular, this movie is available on Netflix Instant Watch. If you’re in the mood go absolutely nowhere, then place this film in your queue, post haste.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at Celebitchy.