Broken Flowers (2005) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Scoop's comments in white:

Bill Murray plays a profoundly depressed ex-lothario named Don Jonston. That name would be the English-language version of Don Juan. Get it? If you don't, the script will help you out with a scene in which the character actually watches an old Don Juan movie on TV. Ol' Don receives a anonymous pink letter informing him that he has a 19-year-old son who may be looking for him. Prodded by a neighbor who loves detective stories, Don decides to embark on a cross-country search for his girlfriends from that era, hoping to ... well, really hoping to learn something about himself, I guess. If he just wanted to know more about whether one of them could have written the letter, he could have accomplished the same thing telephonically, so I guess we can assume he wants to meet them face-to-face for other reasons unrelated to the son's identity.

It is an arthouse film which was nominated for arthousey awards, and won a special jury prize at Cannes. It's one of those films where the author derives some alleged humor by standing condescendingly above all the characters, giving them ridiculous ideas and outlandish professions. (Don's four ex-girlfriends are a pet communication facilitator, a professional closet organizer, a refined and demure seller of "high quality pre-fab homes," and a biker chick.) I believe the point is that your life is shallow and empty unless you are a judgmental middle-aged filmmaker. Bill Murray turns in yet another of those sad sack performances in which he plays a man with no enthusiasm for anything, no spring in his step, and no facial expressions beyond a single mask of despondent boredom. Within the spectrum of recent film performances, Murray is most comparable to Wilson the Volleyball.

It's the kind of movie that people either love or hate. If you have not seen it, you can read more about the movie from the many links below. To me the most incisive comment was the following:

We are reminded in every possible way that this man is a "Don Juan" and yet nothing in the story or character development suggests how someone so broken, so numb, so completely uninterested in life or people, could be that sort of man. We have no idea how or why he has become so broken, and so ultimately don't much care that he is. No light is shed on this at any point - the movie is just one long dip into a stagnant pool of listless nothingness.

I can only imagine that the transitions between scenes of simply fading to black again and again and again, and the endless travel footage (Don in plane, Don in car, Don reading map, Don sleeping in hotel) were one of three things: lack of imagination, self-indulgence or laziness. I can think of no other reasons as this just adds to the stultifying feel of the movie. The parallel between the film's pace and Don's life seems like an amateurish parlor trick to fool the audience into thinking that the mundane is meaningful - not in this movie! Here, the mundane is just plain old boring. All the symbolism is lurid in its obviousness (ex: Don watching the old/original "Don Juan" movie on TV as his life unravels) while the character/story development is so subtle as to be non-existent.


Some trivia: Based on the extra features, the film seems to have been named Dead Flowers until the very last minute.

The following comments are really only for people who have already seen the movie. (If you haven't, you won't understand what I am writing about.)


Who wrote the letter?

I can't tell you that, but I can tell you who could not have. That can be done by applying the process of rational thought. I don't know whether this is a fruitless exercise. Some filmmakers are simply not capable of the kind of thought process necessary for logical plotting, while others are brilliant at it. David Mamet thinks about all the small details, so you can watch his films with the understanding that everything means something. Mamet, however, is an exception among directors and screenwriters, who are generally not the kind of guys who got straight 100s in math and symbolic logic courses. Antonioni, for example, thinks of no details at all, and when he is in the middle of a film he can probably not remember what he has already filmed nor what he has planned to film the following day. Given that approach, it is fruitless to subject his movies to analysis. You can't ask questions like, "Why was there no grass disturbed where the body was alleged to have lain?", or "Who is the man in the mirror?" because the real answer has nothing to do with the plot and everything to do with the fact that the scenes were filmed out of sequence, or that he improvised an unplanned body when the camera started rolling, or that he never noticed that the sound guy was in the shot. It is often hilarious to hear the explanations that Antonioni apologists devise to explain these sorts of things as if they had actually happened in a Mamet script, thus conveying secret meanings. "The lack of physical evidence means that the witness only imagined seeing the body." Yeah, right. Or maybe everyone's drugs kicked in a little early on the set that day.

At any rate, I have to admit that I don't know enough about writer/director Jim Jarmusch to know whether his work should be subjected to any tests of logical thought, but here goes anyway.

First of all, although the letter is unsigned, there is no reason to suspect that the sender of the letter was trying to hide his or her location. (From now on I am going to use the feminine pronoun to avoid the dreary "his or her" convention.) In fact, by placing the letter in a public mailbox with a regular stamp, she would have to assume that Don Jonston (Bill Murray) would know the location of the sender. It was merely happenstance that the postmark was too light to read. The sender had no way to know that would be the case.

Second, the letter was mailed on a very cold day by someone wearing gloves and a winter coat. Some of the trees outside the post office were completely bare. Yet Jonston received the letter on a late summery day. One of the bushes in his front yard was brown, but the trees had not yet even changed colors. Since the letter could not go back in time, it could not have been mailed from the area where Jonston himself lived. Therefore, it could not have been mailed by his current girlfriend or his neighbor Winston.

The logic must remain consistent. Neither Jonston nor the letter can travel backwards in time, and first class mail arrives in less than a week, so the letter must have been mailed from a place with much colder weather than the place where he lives. He first flies off to see Sharon Stone. It is summery there. Stone's daughter is walking outside in a bikini. They eat on the porch at night. This can't be the location from which the letter was sent.

The same is true of Don's next stop to see the real estate agent. It's late summer or very early autumn. 99% of the trees are green, with only a hint of autumnal foliage. Roadside wagons are vending food to be consumed at outdoor picnic tables. Same thing again when he visits the "animal communicator" - a lush and verdant summer blooms everywhere.

That leaves only one possibility: the tough-ass biker chick. Her farmhouse is in the right climate (see the photograph to the right), and she is the type who would wear the kind of unfeminine overcoat and gloves worn by the sender. I can't imagine that she would be the type of woman to send a considered and thought-provoking letter on pink stationary, but if she had done so, it could explain her intense reaction to the question, "Do you have a son?" (One thinks she does have a son, given the basketball hoop seen in the picture.) 

The basic answer is that the biker chick is the only person who could have sent the letter, at least from among the possibilities we know. The "correct" answer might also be that the letter was sent by a woman Don has forgotten and who does not appear on his list.

By the way, the kid in the car in the final scene, the one whose gaze follows Don for as long as possible, might well be his son, given the fact that the role is played by Homer Murray, the real-life son of actor Bill Murray.



  • Three short featurettes.
  • Widescreen transfer, anamorphically enhanced, (16x9)



Alexis Dziena performs full frontal and rear nudity in daylight.

Tuna's comments in yellow:

Broken Flowers is an "art house" film starring a clinically depressed, and equally depressing, Bill Murray. I have some trouble understanding why someone would take a brilliant comedic actor and make him the straight man to a variety of zany characters, but at any rate, Murray slinks through the entire film as if he is on a general anesthesia. He is a Don Juan. I am not sure why this is important, but the film maker has him watching Don Juan on TV, and his neighbor calls him a Don Juan twice. Clearly, we need to know he is a ladies man. It's probably a good thing they did this, as I saw nothing in Murray's personality that would make him even minimally acceptable to anyone, male or female. We have to assume that he has changed, and that he used to have a personality and a life, but we see neither evidence of that, nor any clues that reveal what might have changed him.

As his current girl friend leaves him, he receives a letter in a pink envelope, written in red ink, warning him that he has a 20-year-old son that he didn't know about, and that the son might be looking for him. It is unsigned. His neighbor, who fancies himself a mystery writer, jumps at the chance to investigate a mystery, and has him prepare a list of possible mothers. The neighbor researches all of the listed names on the Internet, then sets up an itinerary for Murray to visit all of the candidates, taking each of them pink flowers, and trying to find out which is the author of the letter. The women he visits are a serious collection of eccentric personalities.

On reading the above, you might conclude that this is a mystery story. However, writer/director Jim Jarmusch gives no clues as to who wrote the letter, and never tells us at the end. Since the film is not meant to be a mystery, it must be something else, but I can't figure out what. There is no sort of redemption, as Murray is the same depressed aging man from opening title screen to ending credits. He does make a statement about living in the present near the end, but since he is nearly unconscious throughout the film, he certainly isn't following that advice. If Murray's character did discover anything about himself on the road trip, he didn't communicate what it was to me, nor did he let it affect his life.

Possibly it was intended as a comedy, because there were some humorous women along his road trip, but the mood was too somber to encourage laughter. I suppose the real genre is pointless art house films, and this one seems to be a favorite of genre fans!

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus out of four stars: three and a half. James Berardinelli 3/4, Roger Ebert 4/4

  • British consensus out of four stars: two and three quarter  stars. Mail 4/10, Telegraph 4/10, Independent 8/10, Guardian 8/10, Times 6/10, Express 10/10, Mirror 6/10, FT 8/10, BBC 4/5.

The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. It grossed $13 million in the USA, a very strong total, given an arthouse run that maxed out at 433 theaters. It was more popular outside the USA, with $25 million in overseas grosses.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, both reviewers call it a C+, although neither of us thought it was especially good. It's top-notch fare for the arthouse crowd, but mainstream audiences will find its pace much too slow and its point too opaque. Most will find it smug and self-absorbed beyond the normal capacity of humans to imagine, unless their last name is Shatner.

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