2005, Francis Lawrence
Well, giving this a chance was a mistake. Did this movie have any idea what story it was trying to tell? I couldn’t understand anything that was going on, and for something that’s supposed to just be an amusing time it’s really not the best sign when the narrative itself is so over-loaded and muddled that none of it makes sense. Add into that Keanu Reeves at his most wooden, Rachel Weisz slumming it and the drastically underutilized Tilda Swinton and Peter Stormare (whose castings as Gabriel and Satan, respectively, were the only potentially interesting things in this clusterfuck) and this was just a trying experience from start to finish. Akiva Goldsman produced it and I’m really starting to toy with the idea of just turning my life into nothing but a fierce quest to destroy Akiva Goldsman.
2005, Jim Jarmusch
With a premise that seems cut from an Alexander Payne film, Jim Jarmusch brings the story of Don Johnston to the screen with his wonderfully idiosyncratic European-meets-Americana sensibility. With Bill Murray in the leading role, the actor and director provide a perfect match with their sand dry humor that belies a deep sadness in this character that is only exposed in the bitter end. An aging lothario, upon discovering a letter in the mail stating that one of his many past lovers had a son who is now 19 and looking for him, Don is encouraged by his friend Winston (Jeffrey Wright, always welcome) to go on the hunt to discover which woman could be the one responsible for the letter and the search leads Don to an understanding of his life and the consequences of his actions.
It seems like a sort of hokey premise — the road trip movie of an aging man who finally comes to terms with all of his past mistakes, but with Jarmusch’s unique sensibility it is turned into a Rubik’s Cube of fascinating motifs, symbolism and metaphors. The way that each lover on his journey represents a different type of life for Don, going up the scale from the young and exciting lover to the settled, timid and secretly unhappy married man, the unconventional eccentric, the miserable ruffian and all the way to the grave, Don’s journey through Broken Flowers is one that represents the universal narrative of life as much as it is simply a mirror for Don to chart all of his own possible endings. Jarmusch wraps this road movie in so many other wonderful trappings, filling his mystery with plenty of red (or shall I say pink) herrings that offer up a lot of clues with no defining resolution.
At the end of the day it doesn’t matter who birthed Don’s son, who his son is or whether or not there really is a son out there at all. Don’s ultimate realization is that his carefree, selfish ways have led him into this life where any young man out there could be his son. The handsome young traveler on the bus who is fawned over by women, the vagabond traveler he buys a sandwich for and philosophizes with, the portly fellow who stares him down while driving by in a VW (a cameo by Murray’s real-life son). Any of these men could be Don’s son and as the camera spins around on him at the end of his tale we see that his life will forever be crippled by this idea — a searing display of the heartbreaking consequence of a life led with no one in mind other than himself.
Broken Flowers has plenty of charming moments with a wealth of interesting side characters played out by great actors (I would kill to see Jarmusch and Wright do a pulp noir flick about Winston) but at the end of the day it’s the tragic tale of a man coming to terms with who he is and the damage he’s done to those he passed through on the way to the lonely existence he currently inhabits. Road movies are often a peppy little remedy for fixing a broken life, but Don’s journey shows him that everyone he loved is broken in some way and their lives are nothing but fractured remnants of lost hope — the same as his is.