Bill Murray: St. Vincent

    Bill Murray is the definition of living in the present. If you’re not sure, watch the credits of St. Vincent.

    The movie starts with a joke, about an accent. 

    I didn’t get it. 

    One guy in the theater got and laughed. 

    Maybe I was with the wrong crowd. Comedians say that each room is different, each one has a different vibe and you’ve got to curtail each performance to the crowd. Movies don’t have that luxury. They are what they are. The audience is what it is. Maybe the trailer is some kind of preparation, maybe not. Maybe it’s the actor, or the thing your friend told you on Facebook.

    I stopped listening to all of that. I like going to movies fresh, without any idea of what’s coming. I like to experience the moment. I learned that from Bill Murray.

    After Ghostbusters, Murray had the opportunity to make whatever he wanted to. He was rich and famous and his name had power and Hollywood respects power. The movie he chose to make is one of my favorite movies. The Razor’s Edge. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen it. About a decade ago I owned ten DVDs. The Razor’s Edge was one of them.

    It’s about a man, caught up in his times, surrounded by chaos of World War I, and then the great depression. He moves to France to escape, then to England, then to India, where he achieves enlightenment when he decides to burn his books because the truth he was looking for was not in the books but in the world around him. 

    Then, it’s back to France, where he finds love only to lose it, or have it taken from him. In the end, he decides to return home, to “America”, with the understanding that there are no rewards in this life except this life. That’s it. This moment. There is nothing else.

    And that’s the way Murray seems to live. He’s stopped being a movie star. He doesn’t have an agent or manager. Instead, he has a 1-800 number, which I don’t know, but was recently verified by a director who cast him. It’s the only number anyone seems to have for him, including Murray’s own lawyer (in L.A. you can ditch everyone but that lawyer, regardless of your transcendent state).

    St Vincent is about a crotchety man who is redeemed by a young boy. It’s the same thing as About A Boy. 

    At least, that’s my first thought. 

    My second thought is that, while the main man in About A Boy is largely vacuous, Murray’s character has depth, a reason for being crotchety. The boy doesn’t redeem him as much as recognizes the depth in what’s in front of him.

    And, that gets back to Murray’s ethos. It’s about the moment, being where you are and seeing what’s in front of you. Not what you think is in front of you, not what people tell you is in front of you, but what’s actually there.

    I met Bill Murray. I was in Manhattan for a screening of ALGORITHM and I chose to fly back by way of Newark. As I was passing through the security check point, Bill Murray walked past. I followed him to a restaurant and ordered something. Everything in my heart wanted to ask the questions about The Razor’s Edge. 

    But, I’m starting to learn what fame feels like. Nothing on Murray’s level, but it’s different. People who see my movies or read my work come to me and assume they know about me. Maybe they do. Maybe reading what I create is a kind of relationship. But, I’m also an introvert.

    I watched Bill Murray as one fan after another came up to him, including the waiter at the restaurant. He treated them all like people, letting them do most of the talking, and he actually listened, responding to what they had told him.

    When there was a brief lull in the fandom, I said, “Mr. Murray. I’d like to shake your hand. I’ve been having one of the best weeks of my life and this is the perfect end to it.”

    He shook my hand.

    Then, another fan came. He invited the man to sit down and tell him about the man’s martial arts studio in Orange County. They talked for about 20 minutes and then the man left.

    After paying for his own meal, Bill Murray walked past, patted me on the shoulder and said, “I hope your great week continues.”

    He had listened. He was in the moment, with each person, not as a super-star, but as a man. That’s Bill Murray. That’s the character he portrays in St. Vincent. A man who is in the moment, real with himself, but continuing on through a very difficult time in his life. 

    That being in the moment thing is required for good acting. Some say acting is reacting. And Bill Murray’s got it, maybe better than anyone else ever has, because it’s now a part of him, not just his characters, but in who he is, how he treats people, the roles he chooses. 

    Bill Murray is St. Vincent, a real man, who has transcended the larger picture and lives in the moment.