“One of the things I like about acting is that, in a funny way, I come back to myself.”
The career of actor/comedian Bill Murray is a great example of how the actor resonates with the role, the role resonates with the actor…and the actor’s roles resonate amongst themselves in a brilliant synchronous dance.
I. THE MURRAY-MUSIC PARADOX
My entire philosophy of life—my entire belief as to how the universe works—can be summed up by the Lorenzo Music/Bill Murray Paradox.
Lorenzo Music had famously voiced the cartoon character Garfield since 1982.
He was so successful in the role that in 1986 he was given another plum voice acting part—that of Peter Venkman in the official cartoon adaptation of the movie Ghostbusters.
Music seemed to have nailed the sardonic essence of Venkman. But apparently Bill Murray didn’t think so—and allegedly Murray had Music fired. The given reason? That Music didn’t sound enough like Murray, and instead sounded too much like Garfield.
Lorenzo Music went on to voice Garfield until his death in 2001. In 2004, Garfield the movie came out. Music, so well-known for this role, would have been the perfect choice to voice the main character. But he was sadly no longer available. So who did the producers find to best approximate the voice of Garfield?
Bill Murray, who got Lorenzo Music fired for making Peter Venkman sound too much like Garfield.
This is the Music/Murray Paradox, which, in a metaphysical sense, relates to the inherent interconnectedness of all things.
I believe that what truly annoyed Murray about Music’s portrayal of Venkman was not that it didn’t sound like him—but rather, it sounded too much like him. Which is to say, Bill Murray sounded like Garfield.
This is why when casting for a replacement voice for Garfield, Murray was chosen.
The more Murray tried to get away from the idea that he sounded like Garfield…the closer that eventually brought him to actually providing the voice of Garfield.
So a corollary to the Music/Murray Paradox is that the harder you try to deny the interconnectedness of all things, the deeper you’re drawn into it.
Perhaps—if you want to get really esoteric about it—on some deep intuitive level Murray knew back in the 1980s that he would eventually provide the voice for a meh CGI movie adaptation of a beloved comic strip. He sensed his eventual destiny…and instinctively pushed it away from him by bashing Music’s work. Which only made him more enmeshed in the larger karmic loop, which had to find fulfillment in him literally “becoming” Garfield.
And what would Garfield represent to Murray? Well, as Murray ages, he is in danger of becoming a self-parody…a pudgy wise-cracking “cartoon” of his former self. Basically, a literal Garfield-type persona. The “Murray Zombie” in the movie Zombieland—who specifically mentions the Garfield movie—is another allusion to this anxiety regarding self-parody, and the devolution of the once-vital younger self.
This also brings to mind that quote from The Dark Knight—about either dying a hero or living long enough to play the villain. Certainly, the 2004 Garfield, while a bit trite and cloying, was not a “villain.” But we can extend the idea-behind-the-quote to mean that in life, we may live out many different roles…especially, paradoxically, those opposite from what we originally wanted to be. We find ourselves in those roles we’ve spent a lifetime to avoid.
II. BILL MURRAY AS “WALKER BETWEEN THE WORLDS”
Have you ever noticed that Bill Murray stars in an awful lot of movies as a person who seems to be caught between the liminal space between the dead and the living?
Ghostbusters is the most obvious example, but there’s also the ghost-packed Scrooged. He dresses like a zombie in the aforementioned Zombieland, cameos as a corpse in an episode of Parks & Recreation, is revealed to be “Grim Reaper” Steve Bannon in a Saturday Night Live skit, & might also be the metaphorical ghost of the Whitman family patriarch in The Darjeeling Limited. Groundhog Day doesn’t feature ghosts, but it is also about a man caught in this liminal space of reality…a sort of “limbo.”
With Scrooged we have a man, Francis Cross, who is the president of a television network and a complete asshole to everyone around him. He is tasked to put on a live version of A Christmas Carol, and this all leads to he himself being visited by “the three ghosts” of the story.
And so here, in a bit of interesting cinematic meta-textuality, is Peter Venkman from Ghostbusters being bedeviled by ghosts.
The “Afterlife” is described in Scrooged as being in television terms; the Ghost Of Christmas Past describes is as thus: “It’s not life, it’s like a re-run.” A re-run, or “re-cycle”—just like Phil Connors in Groundhog’s Day is trapped in a “re-run” of a single day.
Francis Cross himself possesses fake memories from re-runs—the television programs he watched as a child. The realm of fantasy itself is just another of liminality, of the worlds between worlds. Within this realm of fantasy—the movie itself—the actor Bill Murray runs through a review and preview of his other film roles (just like with the Murray-Music Paradox).
The second ghost Cross encounters is a slightly demonic taxi driver (David Johansen). In movies, the taxi often serves as the literal vehicle of traveling to/through the liminal state, like Charon the ferryman in mythology.
We see this most literally in the Ghostbusters scene with the ghost-as-taxi-driver, but it’s also a trope in the movie Wired—a biopic about Murray’s friend and fellow SNL alum John Belushi. (The ghost character Slimer in Ghostbusters is a tribute to Belushi)
Ooh! Ooh! Mr. Kotter, I feel another synchronicity coming on! Because the original actor who was supposed to play the taxi driver in Scrooged was none other than Sam Kinison—who was also supposed to play the lead role in the “cursed” film Atuk, a movie Belushi was slated to star in before he died.
(And Wired is very similar to the film Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling, a semi-autobiographical film starring Richard Pryor about his drug addiction and being severely burned by freebasing cocaine. In a particularly tasteless joke from Scrooged, Cross mistakes a man on fire for Richard Pryor.)
Cross then runs into the Ghost Of Christmas Present, a fairy played by Carol Kane. Kane played comedian Andy Kaufman’s wife in…Taxi, of course. (Kaufman will later be the subject of a biopic along the same lines as Wired and Jo Jo Dancer). She also portrayed the grandmother in The Addams Family three years after appearing in Scrooged (which features “Addams Family” trivia as a minor plot-point).
Cross is literally beaten by the petite Ghost in order to wake him the fuck up. He is stuck between worlds—the worlds of the living and the dead, and reality and fantasy.
He finally ends up in an icy hell-like place within a NYC skyscraper, and Cross has a very interesting question about it:
“Where are we…Trump Tower?”
Remember, Cross is the President…of a TV network. He’s known for being rude and bullying; this trip through the liminal space is a method to redeem him. And he also has a crazy “lone nut” (Bobcat Goldthwait) hunting him down with a shotgun & basically planning to assassinate him Lee Harvey Oswald-like. There was just a lot of dynamics here, re-watching this a couple of years ago only a few weeks after the U.S. Election, that kinda gave me that deja-vu.
Finally, Cross gets out of Hell, goes back to the TV station which is about to present a “live” version of A Christmas Carol—and so we have the “story within the story within the story.” Cross—and maybe even Murray—is in the intersection between worlds, between narratives, perhaps even between realities.
Then he runs into the Ghost of Christmas Future—who literally has a TV for a head and showcases a series of terrifying, glitchy images, including Cross with a skull-head:
Cross is now literally going to be burned alive—putting a whole new perspective on that Pryor joke.
But he gets snapped back into reality and is a “changed man.” Having gone through this shamanic journey, his old body/life is symbolically destroyed and he is a new person; a similar resolution, of course, can be found in Groundhog’s Day.
The same tropes keep replaying/re-cycling themselves.
III. “FEED ME, SEYMOUR!”
In the last scene of Scrooged, Cross runs onto the stage in the middle of the live telecast & addresses the audience. This is breaking the Fourth Wall, purposely making the spaces between worlds liminal. Only this time, he knows how to “control” it…he’s comfortable with this expanded esoteric knowledge regarding the plasticity of reality.
And so he delivers a sort of “reverse” Network-type speech; instead of saying he’s mad as hell, he’s really as happy as heck. He also notes that he is no longer President—him abdicating that job to his smarmy second-in-command the moment he decided to crash the telecast.
And so, as the movie draws to a close, and everyone is cheering, Cross—or is that Murray?—says the following line:
“Feed me, Seymour!”
Which is, of course, from Murray’s 1986 movie Little Shop Of Horrors.
The Fourth Wall has been broken once again, this time between the movie Scrooged and the actual viewers. It is almost as if Murray acknowledges these worlds between worlds, worlds within worlds…that the movie is but a metaphor for Life but that there just might be a deeper interplay between the fantasy and the reality.
Which brings us, in closing, to another Murray holiday movie: A Very Murray Christmas. In which Murray plays…Murray, in a story that confusingly blends reality and real people with fictional situations. And we even have the taxi driver from Scrooged, David Johansen, singing a tune.
A Very Murray Christmas ends with Murray (the real or “fantasy” one—who knows???) passing out from drinking and having a dream sequence with George Clooney and Miley Cyrus in which they are still in the Christmas special. Fantasy/reality breaks down completely.
There is no fictional or “real” Murray—there is only Murray. That is the secret of the man who walks between worlds & lives to tell the tale.