In Jim Jarmusch’s enjoyable film Broken Flowers Bill Murray plays Don Johnston, an aging bachelor who goes on a cross-country journey to visit four of his ex-girlfriends (played by Francis Conroy, Sharon Stone, Jessica Lange and Tilda Swinton) in search of a son he may have sired 20 years ago. Don’s bizarre experiences during his unannounced visits make for some terrific minimalist cinema that serves to crystallize Bill Murray’s sardonic post-modern screen persona as emblematic of American adult male consciousness. Bill Murray’s brand of humor is something to be savored for its every delicate trace of beaten-to-the-punch wisdom and effortless resolve.
Maui Time Weekly: With Lost In Translation and Broken Flowers you’ve perfected your minimalist style of humor. How is it that you are able to do so much more with so much less than most actors?
Bill Murray: I think in my case the minimalism comes from a deterioration of ability, an erosion of skills, so I just have less and less to give all the time.
This is kind of a psychological detective story, so a little bit at a time keeps you intrigued. There’s not a lot of dialogue for me. I basically have to get beaten up by these women through most of the movie, and have to be surprised at what the information is, so most of what I give is just being stung by whatever they say. It’s tough to go back and meet the loves of your life. You kind of misremember exactly how well it went at the time, and when you go back you’re going to be affected by, not only the hurt that you’ve caused, but also by the love that you may have passed on. If you’ve forgotten any of it, it still affects you when you see them.
Have you ever tried to track down an old flame?
Well, I’ve tried but I usually decide to try in the middle of the night in a strange town, so I’ve not had great success with it but they’ve always been interesting evenings—always. I don’t recommend it for most people, but I think we all have someone that we think, “Maybe I didn’t give myself or that person enough of a chance.” I think that I think about people in my past a lot more all the time. Once again, I think that’s the mind eroding and the deterioration of my sanity, but having done it in this film I would say it’s a far more precarious proposition than I would have guessed before.
Your character in Broken Flowers suffers from a kind of mid-life crisis. Can you relate?
I have crises on a regular basis, and they’re not suggested by how old I am or by how much living I’ve done—it’s just the kind of living I’ve been doing that’s been a real problem. When you’re not engaged in whatever your particular problem is then a part of the clothing that you wear can be a jolly way of behavior. You can be very happy-go-lucky about something you’re avoiding. How often do you hear, “Oh, he seemed so positive and upbeat all the time, I can’t believe he killed his entire family.”
I think Tilda Swinton made the point about Broken Flowers being about a question and never really getting the answer, and that is really an interesting design for this character. You just keep returning to the questions again, and that’s sobering because we’re in a result oriented world and if you don’t get them, and you only get questions, then that gets away from your “happy.” MTW
Broken Flowers runs Thursday, Dec. 29 at 2 p.m.