Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Broken Flowers

I watched Broken Flowers last night. Now, I had never been a huge fan of Bill Murray in his early years-- I mean, I enjoyed Stripes and Caddyshack for what they were, but I could never fully identify with the charming asshole that he always played. But I was completely won over by Groundhog Day, which was such a powerful spiritual allegory that I continue to use it to this day in SKS meetings. And I was won over all over again when I saw Lost In Translation, which had all the same kinds of wisdom but translated it into a very realistic story. It was the first time that Bill Murray seemed deep to me -- not because he was playing a deep character, but because he was doing such a wonderful job of playing a shallow man coming up against the existential limits of being shallow.

So, when I saw that Bill Murray had another quirky, small movie that was being favorably compared to Lost In Translation, I had to bite. Some thoughts (warning: spoilers ahead):
  • If you thought Bill Murray was restrained in Lost in Translation, you will find him bordering on catatonic in Broken Flowers. It's as if the actor and/or the director decided to push his powers of deadpan delivery to their absolute limits. There are many shots that go on for two minutes or more, just lingering on him sitting on a couch, or staring out a hotel window. It's a tribute to him as an actor that he manages, mostly, to pull it off.
  • I thought the progression of ex-girlfriends that Don Johnston goes to see was interesting . . . the reception he receives gets progressively worse with each one. He starts with a widow who happily takes him back to her bed . . . and then to a confused but awkward reception from a childless housewife . . . and then a brisk and brief interview with an "animal communicator" . . . and finally getting his lights punched out by some swamp Ophelia's biker boyfriend. But the best part was that the fifth and final ex was dead -- the coldest reception of all. And yet that seemed the best encounter of all; for the first time, Don was there just for someone else, not even to fulfill his own selfish mission. As he sits under a tree, tears in his eyes for the first time, you sense that something has changed in him.
  • The real point of the movie, if there is a point to be had from such an determinedly inconclusive movie, is that Don starts to look at the world a little differently. Rather than seeing each woman as a conquest, he starts to look at her as the possible mother of his only lost son. And every young man he looks at suddenly becomes, possibly, his son. It's like Christ's injunction to "if you do so unto any, then you will have done so unto me." The mystery of not knowing has drawn Don out of his selfish existence and into a state of unexpected compassion for those he meets. That's why, of course, he cannot discover the truth of the mystery during the movie -- the whole point of the movie is draw us in with him, looking at each new face and wondering, wondering . . . and in the process, looking at people with more compassion and sensitivity than we expected.
  • I have started formulate a new standard for the highest quality in TV or movie scripts. The height of character development is when none of the characters is completely admirable, and yet every one of them wins your heart in some way. Six Feet Under did it, and probably was the first to set the standard. Dead Like Me did it, too. Buffy and Angel were capable of it, at their best moments. And Broken Flowers is . . . close. The premise of the story, and Bill Murray's understated performance, makes it hard to feel really strongly about any of the characters. But in a bemused, detached sort of way, you find yourself feeling that way about Don and all his exes. None of them, despite of their relative wealth or poverty, seems very happy. It's a road trip out of hell and into the foothills of purgatory.



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