Jim Jarmusch has been on my list for quite sometime, but I was too occupied with other stuff to catch-up with his movies. Finally, yesterday I saw this movie and I wasn’t too impressed with it.
I did read a few articles after watching the movie and stumbled upon views/opinions where people have called him a sell-out, stating that this has been his most commercial venture yet and he has sacrificed art for commerce. Since I have not seen his other previous works, I cannot comment, but I did feel that the movie was a bit ambiguous.
Anyways, let me get down to the movie itself. Don Johnston is a casanova of sorts and the movie begins with his latest girlfriend walking-out on him. Don handles this in a very calm manner and that’s how he is all through the movie, just calm and cool; never reacting or behaving impulsively. Prior to thism, while the title credits were rolling we are shown a pink envelope being dropped into a mailbox and that letter finally gets delivered to Don on the same day his gf dumps him.
Very non-chalantly Don reads the mail, is perplexed a bit, but never reacts. With total composure he walks across to his neighbour to have some Ethiopian coffee and help him with some technical computer problem. He was into the businees of computers in the past and made some handsome money in it, he keeps repeating this.
So, what is the content of the letter? Its a type-written letter, no handwriting in the mail, no return address on the envelope and he does not seem to recognise the sender. The letter is from one of his ex-gf’s and simply reads that 20 years ago they were in a relationship and that small affair resulted in a baby. Don’s son, who is now 19 years old, has gone on the look-out for his dad, i.e., Don.
Don does not know whether to take this as an absolute truth or some prank being played on him. He has no clue about the veracity of the letter. And even if it were to be true, what can he do about it now! That’s where his neighbour comes into picture, he pushes Don into listing all the women he went-out with, and get in touch with them. Don is not convinced about this at all because he is still in a quandry wondering if its worth it. From hereon the movie is more of a travelogue as he drives/flies from one city to another to meet-up his ex-flames.
Most parts of the movie is dedicated to this, where Don meets each of them and the conversations which take place which are so uncomfortable. There is a brief and spunky appearance of Sharon Stone as one of the ex-ladies whom Don was involved with. Similarly there are 3 other women who have screen presence of about 10 minutes each. But even those 10 minutes seem tortorous to Don which is evident from his expression. The discomfort he faces, the chats they have are all very well handled. He also sounds desperate at times becasue he is a man on a mission, he needs an info, he has a ‘hidden agenda’ of finding out whether he impregnated any of them. He faces harsh words, hard feelings and even a knock is dished out to him in the process.
This is what makes the movie semi-comical at times, his predicament is our pleasure. His misfortune is our entertainment and his quest at finding his love-child is our movie. The movie is fantastic in bits, but overall I was a bit disappointed. It could have turned out better if the director had chosen to make it a comedy or a tragic-drama; but the flip-flopping from funny moments to sudden pangs of sadness gives it an ambiguous feel.
Bill Murray as Don is really good, under-stated and under-played. He does not frown, does not squirm, does not smile etc; only to showcase his displeasure and the worthlessness of the trip. His expression is sullen throughout, but there is an inner churning, a turmoil and it seems justified because he is neither convinced that he may have fathered a child nor does he know how he would react if he were to encounter his son. Not just his son but also his ex-gf’s, how is he to face them suddenly appearing from nowhere at their doors after 20 years.
The way Jarmusch captures the daily life is beautiful – the long drives, the comical moments in-flight, the green-fields and the dry and parched land etc. He is really good with the camera, the manner in which he shoots the residences of Don’s ex-gf’s which range from untidy dwellings to huge mansions, the way Don stares at the bare legs of women in the airport and at the clinic, the nymphet who walks-in nude and surprises Don, the youngman on the streets, all very well done.
Why pink? He receives a pink envelope, he carries pink flowers for each of his ladies and he keeps looking for something pink in every place. And the movie ends with the 360 deg spinning camera shot where Don is left wondering and confused, right in the middle of the street. He is basically lost, lost in the crowd, lost in life, in fact the mail that arrived changed his life forever. He looks to find his son in every youngman who passes him by, wondering if its his son. He has as many questions in the end of the movie as he had in the beginning of it. Where lay a beautiful bunch in the vase, lies now a pile of broken flowers.