Bill Murray, the deadpan existentialist – Groundhog Day and Eternal Cycles

Posted on 2 February 2022
By Andy Johnson
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Bill Murray is a comedy god. He posesses a glint in his eye, a beam from the soul which warns the audience that he is capable of anything.

In Groundhog Day, his TV weatherman Phil Connors is sent to report on the folklore festival in Pennsylvanian backwater Punxsutawney where he snipes at the local hicks until he becomes trapped in a timewarp.

Bill faces Nietzsche’s concept of Eternal Return, living the endless repetition of the same day. The omnipotent clown, usually able to wisecrack his way out of danger, is stripped of his comedy chops and left in limbo to face his demons.

But the Caddyshack legend retains his aura of laidback degeneracy which makes him heroic. There’s something dirty and mischievous to the soul that Bill knows how to tap into and it’s a revelation to watch.

He does what many of us dream of doing with no consequences, orchestrating a heist, gorging on endless cream cakes washed down with coffee and manic police car chases with rodents.

Exploiting the timeless curse, he sets to work on seducing his producer Rita (Andie MacDowell) trying to shape his image to become her perfect man.

Rejected every time: “You’ll never love anyone but yourself…” The painful truth in Bill’s performance is then revealed: “I don’t even like myself.”

Driven to a series of deadpan suicide bids, we even see a stone cold blue-faced Bill laying prostate on the mortuary block, before the film is pulled back from the edge of existential darkness.

He realises he is not a god and chooses to play an angel crafting the perfect day out of unselfish acts.

But we get the feeling Bill has found redemption more out of boredom than any greater motive.

He has starred in several supernatural movies, Scrooged and Ghostbusters being two of his best and it is this jaded and unshockable ego, even when trapped in the clutches of Hell that is the secret of their success.

Groundhog Day is a symbol of not only the cyclical nature of life, but also the Lost In Translation star’s effort to escape the trappings of his Hollywood Blockbuster success.

The industry sat up and took notice of Bill’s reinvention after he went head to head with Robert De Niro in Mad Dog And Glory (also 1993), as a lonely loan shark hooked on stand up comedy and psychoanalysis. His razor sharp and menacing performance was hailed as a major change in direction.

But is it a mistake to reinvent Bill? We’re drawn to him because of his oddity and because he seems so untrustworthy. Part of us wants him to relive the day forever.

Groundhog Day director Harold Ramis believes that the success of his movies didn’t change his Ghostbusters pal Bill, but it distorted and darkened his outlook – ‘making him take greater creative control of his projects.’

Now Bill is reinventing himself 18 years on, spurning a third incarnation of his Ghosbusters’ star and choosing a part in the redemption of Charlie Sheen in upcoming flick A Glimpse Inside The Mind Of Charles Swan III, with Sheen playing a ladies man reliving the failures of his past relationships.

Bill Murray is a way of life.

The above article is an excerpt from the current 1993 Future Throwback issue of Über zine, which is available in all good retailers across Liverpool – out now.

Back issues available here…