Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch:
‘Broken Flowers’ is ‘one of the best movies of the year’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Sept. 8, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

Bill Murray’s new film Broken Flowers is slow-moving, filled with male mid-life crisis, and self-centered. But Broken Flowers also is an enjoyable puzzle-film, filled with extraordinarily fine acting, that has universal overtones.

Director Jim Jarmusch, who has a quirky side, brought Broken Flowers to last May’s Cannes film festival, where it won the Grand Prix (second to the Palme d’Or).

Don Johnston (Bill Murray), whose name connects with Don Juan and one of the actors in the TV series Miami Vice, is seated in an almost catatonic state in his upscale living room. His most recent girlfriend (Julie Delpy) informs him that she is leaving him. His reaction is surprise and muted words trying to communicate.

The same day, a pink letter arrives, supposedly from one of his former lovers, telling Don that he has a 19-year-old son who is looking for him. Don shows the letter to his next-door neighbor Winston (Jeffrey Wright), who is an armchair detective and father of four children. Winston urges Don to pursue the mystery and visit the woman he had a relationship with 20 years ago. Don does not want to go there. But eventually he lets Winston organize a series of trips across the country and, against his better judgment, begins his journey.

The journey to visit four woman he once knew intimately is the core of the movie. The four women are played with gusto by Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy of the HBO TV series Six Feet Under, Jessica Lange, and Tilda Swinton. Broken Flowers is the rare movie that has great parts for older women.

On his Odyssey-like journey, Don finally begins to see beyond himself and slowly begins to look at the young men he meets, wondering if one could be his son.

Jim Jarmusch points his camera at airplanes rising, strip malls, and highways in an off-beat manner that suggests he is criticizing the world we just continually take for granted. The scenes of people crammed into airliner seats do remind a viewer of cattle cars.

Broken Flowers is about past memories, loneliness, and some sense of awakening hope.

Bill Murray gives an outstanding minimalist job of acting. As the movie progressed I found myself laughing more.

Sharon Stone shows she is capable of fine acting as the sexy mother whose NASCAR husband has died recently in a fireball crash. Frances Conroy plays an uptight real estate sales person who once was a flower child in the early ’70s. Jessica Lange plays an animal communicator with a straight face. Tilda Swinton plays a biker who wants Don thrown off her property.

Jeffrey Wright is absolutely fantastic as the black neighbor from Ethiopia. He makes the plot plausible with his amateur sleuth persona.

For me, Broken Flowers is one of the best movies of the year. But I well realize the persons who go to a film for pure entertainment are going to find it very slow going unless they believe Bill Murray can do no wrong.

Broken Flowers is rated R – restricted – by the Motion Picture Association of America, because of language, brief graphic nudity, and drug use. The U.S. bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates Broken Flowers L – Limited Adult Audience.

Short Takes

• When I was at Spokane’s Assumption Parish this past July, I met a parishioner at coffee and donuts who told me that his favorite author was Walker Percy. I told him I had read one of Percy’s later novels, but I had never read his most famous book, The Moviegoer. Well, the next weekend when I was at Assumption, the same parishioner handed me a copy of The Moviegoer.

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this modern classic, first published in 1961. It is set in the New Orleans of the 1950s. The main character is 29-year-old Binx Bolling, back from the Korean War. He acts as a stockbroker in a New Orleans suburb. His daily life centers on going to movies and affairs with his secretaries. But all of a sudden, Binx begins a journey to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and a fateful trip to Chicago that pull him between the continuation of his life with all its superficiality and settling down to some sense of so-called normal, responsible life.

In many ways, the Don Johnston character in Broken Flowers (see above) is a continuation of Binx in the 21st century.

Walker Percy writes so well that it is great fun to read some of The Moviegoer out loud.

Percy’s underlay of Catholicism especially, in his mother’s family, is thought-provoking, to say the least.

The “This I Believe” radio reflections referred to in the novel have recently been repeated on Public Radio at the time of their 50th anniversary.

Percy ends with a middle-class African American gentleman coming out of church on Ash Wednesday. Binx simply says: “It is impossible to say why he is here. Is it part and parcel of the complex business of coming up in the world? Or is it because he believes that God himself is present here at the corner of Elysian Fields and Bons Enfants? Or is he here for both reasons: through some dim dazzling trick of grace, coming for the one and receiving the other as God’s own importunate bonus. It is impossible to say.”

• The Aug. 22 issue of The New Yorker has an enlightening article on evangelical Christianity, with special focus on Billy Graham and his son Franklin Graham. The article, titled “The Big Tent,” by Peter J. Boyer, speaks of the Grahams and the transformation of American evangelicalism.

• The Wine Awards section of September’s Sunset Magazine proclaims Walla Walla as the Wine Destination of the Year. Having had the opportunity to be in Walla Walla two weekends this summer I can attest to the excitement for tourists all through the town. The downtown is alive with lots of unique stores, 12 wine tasting rooms, and art pieces on every street. And, of course, there are the 70-plus wineries throughout the city and the surrounding valley. Wine or no wine, Sunset is absolutely right: Walla Walla is the place to visit.

(Father Caswell is Ecumenical Relations Officer, as well as archivist, for the Diocese of Spokane. He is a frequent contributor to this publication.)

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