15 August 2007

Thank you, NetFlix, from whom all blessings flow.

Dig on this.

In keeping with the Bill Murray theme, my wife and I watched Broken Flowers via our netflix supply line last night. It's Bill Murray playing that character he's perfected: detached, ironic, deadpan aging man unsure of his direction in life and behaving more as an observer than as an active participant in the world around him. It's also by Jim Jarmusch, which means you don't get a clear beginning, middle, and end with the handy Hollywood resolution. In fact, you get so little resolution that you marvel that it's an American film at all (then you see that it won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2005 and suddenly things make more sense).

The plot is set in motion when Don Johnston (Bill Murray), a confirmed bachelor successfully retired from the computer industry and seemingly resolved to spend the rest of his days lying on his sofa watching television, receives a mysterious letter purporting to be from a former girlfriend twenty years in the past, in which the writer claims that they had a son together who at 19 years is now on a quest to find his father. The letter is brought to his attention by his current girlfriend (Julie Delphy), as she dumps him and walks out the door. His detective fiction loving neighbor, Winston, takes charge and dictates Johnston's actions that drive the movie forward. At Winston's urging, Johnston compiles a list of his girlfriends from that time, and Winston locates the four living ones (and the one dead one) and dispatches Johnston on a quest to visit each of the four and "look for clues" as to who wrote the letter.

It's brilliant. He visits each, with each encounter getting more uncomfortable and confrontational, culminating in his visit to Penny (Tilda Swinton). The cast of former flames is pretty impressive: Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange, and Tilda Swinton all in relatively short but emotionally charged roles (Julie Delphy, whose character dumps him at the beginning of the movie, is on screen for perhaps one minute).

The camera keeps playing tricks with the viewer, though, inserting repetitive images (for example, Johnston's drives to and from each encounter involve the road changing from interstate, to secondary highway, to backroad and vice versa) and ambiguous visual clues (he's been told to look for pink, since the letter writer used pink stationery: all of his ex-flames have several pink items around them).

By the end of the film, I was left thinking of The Crying of Lot 49 and some of the more interesting movies of the last decade that play with memory and perception, like Memento or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Although, more like the Pynchon novel than like the films, because in the end, you haven't unraveled anything.


Reya Mellicker said...

I love Bill Murray.

But I avoided this film because even Jim J. films, when there are too many stars involved, tend to not be so good. Too Many Stars spoil the movie brew.

But now I think I'll see it. Bravo.

Momentary Academic said...

I kept wanting to see it and I never got around to it. Now I shall. Thanks!

cuff said...

I've been thinking a bit more about the film. It's clearly centered on the Murray character, and the women are more or less stops along his journey, so to that extent it's a typical male-centered story, but you don't feel that Johnston was victimized by these women (you know the kind of movie where the women just don't understand the poor male character etc) -- just that he was charming and wonderful and an asshole all at once.