Broken Flowers

| August 5, 2005

On May 16th 1933, in the small town of Alton, Pennsylvania, there is the account of the shooting of one Mr. William T. Jewell.
Mr. Jewell was strolling down Harper Street, when all of a sudden, an unruly man simply named Heath, drew forth from behind a building and shot poor Mr. Jewell with a rifle.
Children screamed, women fainted and ill-tempered Heath was drug off by the authorities, as Mr. Jewell’s blood littered the cobblestone street.
Of course this seems rather horrendous, but to appreciate the true beauty of the crime, one needs to travel back five days earlier.
In the town of Alton, Mr. Jewell was considered what many would call a Don Juan. A man of impeccable charm and class, Mr. Jewell would spend the majority of his evenings flocking from one bedroom to another. It seemed there was no woman alive who could resist his appeal. And with the anxiousness of a child at Christmas, Mr. Jewell accepted every kiss, garment and bed sheet that was thrown at him.
One cloudy, Monday afternoon though, Mr. Jewell met a young woman by the name of Cassidy Sinclair. Cassidy was an aspiring actress, and currently on her way to New York to try and make it big in the theatre world.
Of course it didn’t take long for Mr. Jewell to seduce the poor girl, and soon the two were swimming underneath a sea of pillows and feather blankets.
Cassidy left Alton the next day, and made her way to New York. Mr. Jewell was satisfied with his conquest, and went about his normal routine for the rest of the week. That is, until he was shot early Friday morning.
Now the question that comes into play here, is what does Cassidy Sinclair have to do with the murder of Mr. William T. Jewell?
Mr. Jewell’s sexual escapades were no secret. He had been with many women in his lifetime, both inside and outside of Alton.
Through certain investigative matters, it was later revealed that Cassidy Sinclair was in fact the biological daughter of Mr. Jewell.
Unbeknownst to them at the time, the revelation came from a Doctor Peter Elroy who performed Mr. Jewell’s autopsy. Elroy noted that the blood type from Mr. Jewell matched exactly with a female patient of his. The patient in question was none other than Ms. Sinclair.
Although this discovery was quite extraordinary, the matter became even more significant after an interrogation took place with the shooter, Heath.
Apparently, Ms. Sinclair had quite a fondness for older men, which drew her not only to Mr. Jewell, but to Heath as well. Though nearly twice her age, Heath and Cassidy developed a strong romantic relationship over the last few months. Cassidy clearly cared for Heath, and admitted to him her unfaithfulness with Mr. Jewell. Which in the end, resulted in the murder.
A routine blood test at the hospital though, revealed that Heath and Cassidy were much closer than they ever knew.
The blood test showed that in fact, Heath was related to both Cassidy and Mr. Jewell. Clearly a long, lost brother of Mr. Jewell, the two had both been romantically linked to Cassidy, without ever being aware of the two’s biological relationship.
The uncle, the father and the daughter. A ménage trios of deception, lust and ultimately revenge.
Our eyes can see what’s in front of us, but sometimes the strings attaching the mask are a little out of range.
The skeletons of the past, and the questions arising from discarded relationships, are the central themes in Jim Jarmusch’s latest effort Broken Flowers. Through a turbulent and intriguing journey, Jarmusch is able to guide the audience through the closed doors of the past, in search of some sort of light, long thought to be extinguished.
The individual leading the way down this long, and mysterious road is a man by the name of Don Johnston, played by Bill Murray. Sporting a never-ending variety of jogging suits, Don lives comfortably in an upscale, luxury home. Having made it big in the computer business, Don possesses the ability to enjoy the finer things in life. But as the story opens, Don is being left by his current girlfriend Sherry, played by Julie Delpy. Don’s unwillingness to commit to a long-term relationship, leads Sherry to abandon the situation, leaving Don helpless and sad on his living room sofa.
Somewhere in between his long naps and gazing blankly at the television set, Don finds time to gather his mail. Nicely tucked inside of a pink envelope, lies a letter that will alter Don’s life forever.
The letter is from an anonymous ex flame, who claims that Don has a 19 year old son. The son is supposedly curious about his father, and has set out on a road trip to find him. Extremely confused by this revelation, Don seeks assistance from his Ethiopian neighbor Winston, played by Jeffrey Wright.
A modern day Sam Spade of sorts, Winston quite often enjoys playing the role of the detective in his everyday life. Although Don does not display much enthusiasm over the letter, Winston sees this as a great opportunity for Don to get in touch with his past, and perhaps, discover something that was lost a long time ago.
Carefully making travel accommodations throughout the country, Winston sends Don off to the various cities and towns of his prominent ex loves. Hoping in some way or another, he will discover the key to his son, amidst the wilderness of the past.
Comfortably seated behind the wheel of a white Ford Taurus, Don crisscrosses the country in search of answers that may lead him to his son. During these encounters, Don runs into a variety of former loves played by Sharon Stone, Francis Conroy and Jessica Lange. These meetings are typically brief, and generally end in disappointment.
In the end, Don returns to his home without any real answers. Every young face he sees, whether it be in a car or sitting on a street corner, could be his son. Don is still somewhat uncertain of the past, but somehow prepared for the future.
The events of the past, and their effect on the future play a vital role in the overall makeup of the film. Through certain technical and metaphorical devices, Jarmusch is able to bring the audience closer to the protagonist’s struggle. One such visual tool that becomes rather significant through the piece is that of color and wardrobe.
Throughout the film, Don Johnston sports a wide array of jogging suits. These garments possess the same style, but lack a similar color. This apparent physical representation, could quite honestly be related to the women in Don’s life. The material used in making the suits are the same, but the colors and designs are different. Much in the same way human beings are. People are just flesh and blood, but each one possesses a unique personality and life. These different colors comment on a mood or feeling. In the case of Don, these women represent a particular moment in his life. And perhaps, in some way or another, have contributed to the emotional makeup of his current state.
As with the significance in clothing choices, the act of giving flowers is also a prominent factor in deciphering Don’s intentions.
As he arrives at each woman’s doorstep, a batch of fresh, pink flowers jets forth from his hands. Initially, these flowers are meant to identify the culprit behind the letter, but soon serve a far more meaningful action.
Like the clothing choices before, there are different flower choices for each woman. The thing about flowers is, is that after you’ve picked them out of the ground, they are already slowly dying. They need water to survive. In dealing with the women, Don once picked these flowers out of the ground, and held them gently in his hands. But for some reason or another, the flowers wilted, and disappeared.
A flower cannot grow anymore after it has died. No matter how much water you give it. Don has attempted to go back and try to care for these broken blossoms. But in the end, once the petal has fallen, the chance of saving it becomes a race. One that is near impossible to win.
With Broken Flowers, Jim Jarmusch has conducted an examination of the consequences of one’s past actions.
Through the protagonist’s brief but revealing journey, the audience has been able to capture a glimpse into the struggle and hope that exists in one man’s heart.
Bill Murray, with his deadpan delivery and sympathetic actions, provides a true inspiration for the audience. Throughout these travels, Don experiences joy, understanding, but also heartbreak. It is within this combination of emotions that the audience is able to zero in on the world of one man’s struggle. A struggle that reeks of uncertainty, but also provides a glimmer of hope.

About the Author:

Matthew Vasiliauskas is a graduate of Columbia University. His work has appeared in publications such as Conjunctions, Berlin’s Sand Literary Journal, Chicago Literati and The Pennsylvania Review. Matthew currently lives and works in Los Angeles.
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