August 21st, 2005


Broken Flowers

Broken Flowers is the new film by Jim Jarmusch, and it shares with his previous films a curious quality: It refuses to cater to or manipulate the audiences expectation of film narrative. It sets up a mystery -- whether or not Bill Murray's character has a son who is looking for him -- and in the end doesn't resolve it. The drama of the movie occurs in the viewer's mind, as you try and decode from the scantest of tells what is going on in the heads of the characters.

It has some funny moments, but the jokes have no conventional payoff. Murray's character's name is Don Johnston, and several times people he meet are amused by the similarity of his name to the actor Don Johnsons' -- Murray's deadpan assertion of the 'T' they miss implies a whole backstory of people missing the 'T,' but beyond correcting the mistake he seems to have no reaction at all. The old flame whose daughter is named Lolita, who parades naked in front of Murray, is another bad old joke that doesn't get the send-up any other director would give it. Murray's reaction to her nakedness is so minimal -- he buries the double take by simply turning his head a few degrees.

The long, static takes of Murray, sitting on his couch staring deadpan at the television, or listening to music, seem to be anti-dramatic. Or perhaps boring -- you decide. The whole film is an unresolved ambiguity. What are we meant to conclude from this guy who says very little, and stays deadpan in the face of every outrageous challenge to his emotional comfort? The mystery raised -- and plumbed to its depths by his mystery-obsessed Jamaican neighbor -- is, if anything, less explained at the end of the film than the start.

Like "Down By Law" and "Stranger Than Paradise," Jarmusch seems to be fascinated by the idea of trying to create a fiction with the feel of real life. The events on the screen are in some sense dramatic, but the characters seem to just drift around inside their own lives, perplexed by what is happening to them. Like life, the payoff is long in coming, or never comes, or what happens is a muddle that raises more questions than it answers.

You will either be fascinated by this movie, or be pissed at the two hours of your life you'll never get back, or ... be suspended between those two reactions. It calls into question the whole idea of entertainment, and the satisfaction one normally expects from a movie.