I lost my virginity because of Bill Murray. Well, no, that might be overstating it. He wasn’t in the room when it happened. But he was in my head, or at least his characters were — those smirking, frumpy goofballs, statues of imperfection. If they could make it work with acne, a paunch and bad posture, surely, I could, too.
I'm in my 50s now and should have long outgrown my Bill Murray phase. But he's more important to me than ever. Middle-aged guys have a weird relationship with Murray. We’ve been alive for roughly as long as he’s been making movies. We’ve grown up with him. And for some of us, he’s guided us through the first century of our lives. Every decade, he’s been right there with movies that were like blueprints for better living.
Here's how Murray has been our Sherpa along the great climb to modern manhood.
Murray road map: Meatballs (1979), Caddyshack (1980)
We’re all Carl, the bumbling groundskeeper in Caddyshack—invisible to the world, incapable of doing the simplest of tasks. Losing is inevitable, and as Tripper reminds us in Meatballs, "It just doesn’t matter." There's something freeing in that, the realization that the gophers and Camp Mohawks in life are probably going to win, so who cares? You can try again tomorrow. Maybe this time with dynamite!
Murray road map: Stripes (1981), Ghostbusters (1984)
Your body’s changing. You feel weird and unlovable, and you’re covered in slime far more than you’d like to admit. It feels like authority figures are always yelling at you. “We’re mutants," Winger reminds his fellow recruits (and, basically, all teenagers) in Stripes. But you'll figure it out, just like Peter Venkman and the other Ghostbusters figured out how to use those unlicensed nuclear accelerators without blowing themselves up. The things you think are flaws may just be your superpowers.
Murray road map: What About Bob? (1991), Groundhog Day (1993)
Being a smug a__hole like Phil Connors in Groundhog Day isn’t as cute as it was back in high school. It’s time to grow up a little. Be kinder to the people around you. You’re responsible for your days. You can make them happy or sad, full of meaning or more of the same. Take life at your own speed, even if your own speed is baby steps. Enjoy every victory, because they don’t happen all that often. Do things that terrify you, even if you have to be tied to a boat mast with rope to find the courage. It wasn’t pretty, but you did it. You’re sailing! You’re a sailor now! Ahoy!
Murray road map: Lost in Translation (2003), The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
Not living up to your own expectations? Join the club. Am I ever going to be good again? Steve Zissou wondered to himself. Spoiler alert: you will. Maybe don't take so many business trips away from your family. Be more forgiving with your spouse. Like Bob Harris in Lost in Translation said, if your marriage is barely older than a teenager, it can technically drive a car "but there's still the occasional accident.”
Stop flirting with younger women. Stick with the ones your own age, as they're more likely to save you from pirates. Also, that metaphorical shark you're after, even if you find it, it's not going to make you happy.
The 40s and 50s
Murray road map: Moonrise Kingdom (2012), St. Vincent (2014), The French Dispatch (2021)
Parenting is hard, but your kids idolize you more than you know, even when you screw up. Don't yell, make sure your family feels protected, and hold fast to your rules (even when those rules are "Don't cry in my office.") Grumble when your kids bleed you dry, but pay it anyway. Some nights, you’ll lie in bed like Mr. Bishop in Moonrise Kingdom, staring at the ceiling and hoping to get sucked into space. That’s just melancholy—it passes. Try listening to Bob Dylan songs on an old Walkman while having a sneaky cigarette. The little moments matter more than they used to.
Source photo credits, left to right: Warner Bros.; Alamy; Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection; Pitcher: Alamy; Buena Vista Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection; Searchlight Pictures/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; Background: Getty Images