“I don’t know what they mean,” director Jim Jarmusch says of his movies during one of the bonus features on the “Broken Flowers” DVD. Sometimes life doesn’t come wrapped up in a tidy little package, and many of Jarmusch’s films reflect that fact. S**t happens, you deal with it, and you move on. Sometimes you never find the answers you were looking for, but you still need to make do with whatever information you obtained during your search.
Such is the situation Don Johnston (Bill Murray) finds himself thrown into at the start of “Broken Flowers.” His girlfriend, a cipher played by Julie Delpy, packs up and leaves, making a comment about how he’s nothing more than an aging Don Juan before she walks out the door. While Don resents that oh-so-apropos remark when she and other characters in the film make it, a letter arrives the same day and smacks him over the head with a reminder of his playboy past. An anonymous former lover tells him that he has a 19-year-old son who has embarked on a quest to find him, despite the fact that she has told him nothing about Don and wishes the kid wouldn’t try to locate him.
Don doesn’t know what to do with this bombshell, so he turns to his neighbor Winston, who’s married and has five kids and three jobs but is still willing to put his amateur detective skills to work. Over Don’s half-hearted objections, Winston uses a list of the women he had been with 19 years ago to put together a travel itinerary. Winston then convinces Don to embark on a road trip to figure out which of four previous lovers is the mystery letter writer. A fifth had unfortunately passed away a few years ago.
If you’ve seen “The Life Aquatic With Steven Zissou” or “Lost in Translation,” you can imagine the droll performance Murray turns in as Don travels the country. Whether he’s talking to a former girlfriend turned “animal communicator” or one who married a now-dead stock car racer and has an aptly-named daughter, he adopts the same detached tone, no matter how absurd the circumstances become. This being a Jarmusch film, they often become quite absurd, although they never become weird just for the sake of being weird. Each of the women is very different from the others, but it’s clear they connected to him in some way, even the one who’d rather he drop dead on her porch.
Unsurprisingly, “Broken Flowers” ends on an ambiguous note as far as the central question of Don’s quest is concerned, but I think the final scene lets us know that he probably could have been a decent dad, if he had chosen a different path in life. That sense of “What if?” is really the heart of this film; anyone hoping for a profound epiphany or a teary reunion will be let down by the movie.
The quote I cited at the beginning of this review comes during a four-minute bonus feature called “Farmhouse,” which plays comments from Jarmusch on top of behind-the-scenes footage. The interview, which sounds like it was recorded over the phone, offers some interesting tidbits, but, like his movies, the director comes off a bit obtuse.
The other supplements on this DVD consist of outtakes from the girls on the bus scene, the theatrical trailer, and “Broken Flowers Start to Finish,” which features about eight minutes of clapboard shots from all the film’s locations, interspersed with footage of Murray goofing around. He must be a blast on the set. Unfortunately, you’re not going to learn anything about how this film came about, nor are you going to hear any serious discussions by the actors, but that’s the way it goes with a Jarmusch film. Just as s**t happens in his movies without rhyme or reason (he likens it to chaos theory), there’s no way to know how or why certain supplements show up on his DVD releases. They show up on the menu, you deal with them, and then you move on.