(2005) dir. Jim Jarmusch
viewed: 08/10/05 at Embarcadero, SF, CA
Jim Jarmusch is one of my favorite directors, despite the erratic natures and qualities of many of his films. When he gets it right, as he did so amazingly in Dead Man (1995) and Down by Law (1986), his films are the best of a generation.
This film is interesting in his oeuvre, as it is in essence a bit of a road movie, which is a vague genre that he has ventured into in the past, most notably in 1984’s Stranger Than Paradise. In that film, he explored the country in a strange perspective, from an immigrant perspective, very visceral. In Broken Flowers, the exploration of the country is less about specific locations (no places are explicitly named), but rather a look at life choices and social strata, though I haven’t concluded the absolute point.
The story follows Bill Murray, who is typically excellent, as a solitary lothario, who is wearying of his place in life, but is sparked to attention by a note left for him from an old lover, suggesting that he has an 18 year old son who is seeking him. The letter is unsigned and spurs him to make a list (with the explicit direction from his neighbor) and seek out the women of his life from 20 years ago.
There are five women that he seeks out in locations and professions that connote with varying lifestyles, all different from one another. One woman is a single mother with a teenage daughter, who comes from a lower middle-class neighborhood, alone since the death of her husband. The second is an upper middle class woman who is married and apparantly childless, living in a modern pre-fab neighborhood, making money from selling real estate. The third is a new age animal communicator, who is somewhere between crazy and rational. The fourth is an angry working-class woman, about whom we learn little, other than her association with motorcycles and rough guys. The fifth one is in a cemetary.
The progression moves in his relationship with the women from pleasant to brutal. He ends up sleeping with the single mom, who is glad to see him, to getting beaten up by the friends of the biker chick, who seems to loathe him.
What this all means, I am not totally sure, though for Murray’s character, it is clear that he catches glimpses of alternative lives to his own, alternate paths he might have chosen. But in the end, as he stares intently at every young man on the street that is the age of his son, he realizes how lost he is and how alone. The crisis is of no longer knowing who he is in the world and what matters to him.
The film is slow, but is interesting. It’s a sad, lost feeling that emanates from it. When it ends without closure, the audience is meant to feel as unsatisfied as the protagonist. And I am sure it will disappoint those who seek such closure in films. In the end, it’s not great Jarmusch, but it is good Jarmusch. I’d recommend it, but not to everyone.