SPidge Tales

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Broken Flowers

Broken Flowers, starring Bill Murray. Movie Review by me.

In the Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche is focused on the idea of intoxication, of being intoxicated, filled up, and engulfed in a passion. Nietzsche contrasts the the Dionysian impulse and the Apollonian. The Apollonian is the visual arts, and gives an appearance of form and stability. The Dionysian is intoxication, and its representation in the arts is music. Like music, the Dionysian is constantly moving through time, whereas the Apollonian, like sculpture and painting, is stationary, forever present in one form. These two impulses represent, for Nietzsche, the “origin and essence of Greek tragedy.”

For Nietzsche, tragic plays were the high point for Greek culture. The Dionysian spirit embodied them, since it is out of music that tragedy emerged. Tragedy was great because it moved beyond a moral and ethical interpretation of the events described in the play. The world of tragedy presupposes that there is no objective order. It is not evil or wrongdoing that causes suffering. It is just part of the chaos of existence. Meaninglessness is inherent to existence. In tragedy, the Greeks showed how one could confront this, by recognizing the Apollonian images of reality, and surviving the meaninglessness through a Dionysian “intoxication” of life.

The golden age of tragic plays would end with the birth of Euripidean drama, where the Dionysian impulse is disavowed, and the hero has a connection to virtue, knowledge, and morality. In Broken Flowers, the recent film starring Bill Murray, Murray’s character, Don Johnston, must decide whether to continue and bask in perpetual intoxication, or attempt to get a clear, ‘sober’, look at his world.

Don Johnston is a self made rich man, preferring to remain in the comfort of his living room. He seems to be unfazed even as his latest girlfriend decides to leave him and move out. Don, whose fortune has come through his knowledge of computers, leaves his house—a house without a computer—to help his neighbor, Winston, fix his computer. Don decides to read an anonymous letter he has received. It is shockingly revealed that he has fathered a son 20 years ago, and that this 19 year old boy is out searching for his father. Since no name is written in the letter, Don enlists the help of go-getter friend Winston, an Ethiopian immigrant holding down three jobs to support a wife and five kids, to help him figure out which of the five women he was dating around that time could possibly be the mother of his son.

Winston researches and plans the trip, and Don sets out on an adventure to reconnect with his old flames and come to grips with his past. Connected often with tragedy is irony, such as the confusion by those he meets over his name, mistaking Don for Miami Vice actor Don Johnson, who in real life is not half the celebrity of Bill Murray, or girlfriend number one’s daughter Lolita, often naked and always suggestive around Don, to the chagrin of mother Laura, herself not afraid to jump into bed with Don after a 20 year break.

The visits to each successive old flame get worse, leaving us, and Don, to wonder whether his effort to move from the Dionysian to the Apollonian is worthwhile. Should Don have stayed in his home, with the blinds down, the lights off, in his comfort, if not happiness, zone? Does Don receive the answers he is looking for, and in turn, the peace of mind that has not come with what the film suggests are his numerous sexual conquests as he lived a life of Dionysian intoxication?

Spoiler Alert! I think the greatness of this film is that it gives us the struggle between the Dionysian and Apollonian impulses, without showing its hand and revealing where it stands. The movie concludes with the young man that Don believes may be his son leaving him, and Don is as confused as when he first opened the anonymous letter. We are left wondering whether, as Nietzsche claims, tragedies are the highest apex of the beautiful, offering us a respite from meaninglessness, with Don’s despair resulting from his attempt to leave the Dionysian for the Apollonian, or if, as Socrates suggests, the beautiful is something that can be comprehended and seen as true, with Don’s despair the result of not finding an answer that he knows is out there.


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Blogger Free Press Staffers said...


Well put. I like the framework you give it. Now if only we could find a way to keep the spammers away...

4:37 PM  
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I'm not a spammer lol, I'm too boring to start my own page. But I will say, I think of all the people at camp, we definitely had the Apollian/Dionysian thing going. Cause we're serious (static/structured, whatever) when it's time to be serious (morning prayer), but we also would jump in the puddle barefoot, etc. I think it's important to be immersed in classical thought/history (or some other engaging hobby that can be continually explored, for those who aren't intellectual), but also in touch with stuff of our generation. I don't know as much about pop culture/movies as you, hence I couldn't write those kind of reviews, but I think it's great you can have both on the blog.

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