Without Bill Murray, who celebrates his 70th birthday today, many movies of the past 44 years would have been a lot less memorable. From Tootsie, Ghostbusters, and The Man Who Knew Too Little, to his tender portrayal of being Lost in Translation, Bill Murray has made every one of his many roles shine with his humanity and his very unique take on the glorious and melancholy fun of being alive in a crazy world.
But today we celebrate one movie specifically here, and this is Groundhog Day, perhaps the most philosophical of all his films. The story of a man who wakes up, every day, to the same day again. And again. And again. As anyone would, he goes through phases of disbelief, frustration, depression, and even tries to kill himself in order to escape from the relentless, eternal repetition of the exact same day. But then something happens. The man, trapped in this one-day life, realises that the only way to make his fate bearable is to accept it. To submit to it, but not passively: to take this one day he has been given and to transform it into something worth living for, worth waking up to, again and again. And we, the audience, along with him, learn to see our own lives in a different light.
Harold Ramis, the screenwriter of the movie, has often told the story of how the movie became a favourite of Buddhist circles, although he never intended it to. One can see why. The movie cries to be interpreted. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief are played out in the evolution of the main character: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The neverending cycle of rebirth is pictured in the awakening of Murray’s character every morning. Weatherman Phil can also be seen as an incarnation of a Bodhisattva, a perfect being, liberated from the cycle of birth and death, who stays on in the world to help rescue all the other beings and move them towards salvation. But the most important interpretation is that, which every one of us will give to the message in our everyday lives:
When the alarm clock rings in the morning, this is not just a call to repeat the same old day in the office again and again, as if time had stopped and we were caught in a deadly, timeless loop forever. Rather, every day is a new opportunity, the gift of a span of time, which every one of us has the power to transform. To change from mindless drudgery to something exciting, creative, divine, with nothing more than one’s two hands, one’s mind, and one’s heart.
One single day is all that anyone needs for salvation.
Happy Birthday, Bill Murray!
Photo by Harald Krichel — Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=86623843