Tag Archives: Bill Murray

Most Patriotic Films #28: Stripes

“We’re Americans, with a capital ‘A’, huh? You know what that means? Do ya? That means that our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world. We are the wretched refuse.”

Stripes.  This is not the greatest movie ever made.  This is not the best work by the actors, the writers or the director if you look at any of their careers.   And perhaps it’s just the snob in me, but I don’t find much of the film very funny (with the exception of their drill performance at graduation…sorry couldn’t find a decent youtube clip to share).

So if this isn’t the best film, why did it make this list?  Well for this scene.

The night before their graduation from boot camp, this band of losers has lost their DI and is on the verge of either having to repeat boot camp (or just be dishonorably discharged, which is probably more what they deserve)…but Bill Murray brings them together by reminding them more than anything, they’re American soldiers and that means something.

“Cut it out! Cut it out! Cut it out! The hell’s the matter with you? Stupid! We’re all very different people. We’re not Watusi. We’re not Spartans. We’re Americans, with a capital ‘A’, huh? You know what that means? Do ya? That means that our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world. We are the wretched refuse. We’re the underdog. We’re mutts! Here’s proof: his nose is cold! But there’s no animal that’s more faithful, that’s more loyal, more loveable than the mutt. Who saw “Old Yeller?” Who cried when Old Yeller got shot at the end? Nobody cried when Old Yeller got shot? I’m sure. I cried my eyes out. So we’re all dogfaces, we’re all very, very different, but there is one thing that we all have in common: we were all stupid enough to enlist in the Army. We’re mutants. There’s something wrong with us, something very, very wrong with us. Something seriously wrong with us – we’re soldiers. But we’re American soldiers! We’ve been kicking ass for 200 years! We’re 10 and 1! Now we don’t have to worry about whether or not we practiced. We don’t have to worry about whether Captain Stillman wants to have us hung. All we have to do is to be the great American fighting soldier that is inside each one of us. Now do what I do, and say what I say. And make me proud.” [Italics Added]

Why is this a great scene?  Because it points out all the things that make America great.

Yes, “that our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world.”  And as Americans we’re proud of that.  We even have a sign at the front door “”Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” with the implication, our nation will turn the tired into the productive, our nation will turn the poor into the prosperous, our nation will turn the huddled masses into individuals who stand tall.  The statue may be standing with a torch in her hand, but she really is giving the finger to Europe.  Or put another way, in the opening to his book Peace Kills: America’s Fun New Imperialism, P.J. O’Rourke describes America’s relationship to the old world:

“Americans hate foreign policy. Americans hate foreign policy because Americans hate foreigners. Americans hate foreigners because Americans are foreigners. We all come from foreign lands, even if we came 10,000 years ago on a land bridge across the Bering Strait.  We didn’t want anything to do with those Ice Age Siberians, them with the itchy cave-bear-pelt underwear ad mammoth meat on their breath.  We were off to the Pacific Northwest—great salmon fishing, blowout potluck dinners, a whole new life.

“America is not ‘globally conscious’ or ‘multi-cultural.’ Americans didn’t come to America to be Limey Poofters, Frog-Eaters, Bucket Heads, Micks, Spicks, Sheenies or Wogs. If we’d wanted foreign entanglements, we would have stayed home. Or – in the case of those of us who were shipped to America against our will – as slaves, exiles, or transported prisoners – we would have gone back.  Events in Liberia and the type of American who lives in Paris tell us what to think of that.”

In other words, every “decent country” that threw us out, can go do something anatomically impossible to itself.  We took the worst of your worst and created the best of the best.

But O’Rourke’s lighthearted listing of racial epithets leads to the next point that makes the speech in Stripes so great. We’re mutts.  Over 2 centuries we have taken bits and pieces of almost every culture in the world, kept what works, kept some stuff that is neither good or bad, and thrown out most of the B.S. (we’re still trying to get rid of all of the stuff that doesn’t work).  We’re mutts.  I haven’t heard the phrase used a lot lately, which is sad, but I’m sure we all remember the phrase “the melting pot.”  The idea that, time and time and time again, we have incorporated new cultures into our own and made those cultures part of us. It’s gone a little out of use as liberals now love to promote every subgroup to embrace their difference at the cost of success and the cost of remaining an outside group…but the sane among us remember that it used to be standard practice that no matter how bad you were treated when you got here, once you assimilated into American culture you were not only accepted but American culture assimilated your culture into its own (everyone seems to forget that the Irish were once treated worse than anyone…and while a lot of Romney’s ancestors were Scots and Germans, I seem to recall that 2008 was two men of Irish decent battling against each other for the highest office in the land).  With the exception of first and second generation immigrants, it’s damn near impossible to find someone in this country who can trace their ancestry back to one country.  Hell, Elizabeth Warren seems to be the only person in the country without a drop of Native American blood.  And I think we all know that within one to two centuries race will be a forgotten concept in this nation as most people will be able to trace ancestors back to every major ethnic group in the world.  And that’s what makes us great.  We’re mutts.  As a whole we don’t care about anything but merit.

And finally there is the line, “There’s something wrong with us, something very, very wrong with us. Something seriously wrong with us – we’re soldiers. But we’re American soldiers! We’ve been kicking ass for 200 years! We’re 10 and 1!” Now I’m actually going to forgive the fact that there is a little insult here to the armed services.  The film started filming in November of 1980, which means it was probably written in 1979 and early 1980…that is during the impotent Presidency of dim Jimmy “I’ll always support anti-Semitism given a choice” Carter.  Can you blame someone for having a low opinion of this nation when U.S. citizens are being held by insane zealots and the proper response of blowing Iran to hell isn’t being taken, or when the strong stance against Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is to boycott the Olympics?  And as to the 10 and 1, it’s only been in recent years that it has been pointed out that we never lost a military encounter, we only lost the political ones because Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ and Nixon were all too gutless to actually fight a real war, opting instead for police actions.  But the point is correct we’ve been kicking ass for 200 years and have never lost a war because of our military, only because of our politicians.  And it’s not because of numbers or arms, it’s because, unlike a lot of other countries, we have a reason that is morally right to fight for: liberty.

Again, this is not the greatest film ever.  But it is a great scene that does highlight what is great about this nation.

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Movies for New Agers–Groundhog Day

“This is pitiful. A thousand people freezing their butts off waiting to worship a rat. What a hype. Groundhog Day used to mean something in this town. They used to pull the hog out, and they used to eat it. You’re hypocrites, all of you!”

“What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same and nothing you did mattered?”–Bill Murray, Groundhog Day.

So today of all days, February 2nd, is the only day to discuss one of the greatest films of all time, Groundhog Day. I think by now we all know the film and the concept…although just in case you don’t know let me quickly recap the movie (I have to do this because I found some people just live in caves and don’t know movies at all). Phil Connors (Bill Murray in his last enjoyable role) an unhappy, misanthropic TV weatherman gets sent to Punxsutawney, PA to cover the annual Groundhog festival to see if famed weatherman and groundhog Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow or not. Then a snowstorm hits and he can’t get out of the small town he loathes. But what’s worst of all is that when he wakes up the next morning, it’s still Groundhog day. It’s always Groundhog day. Every day he wakes up and it’s Groundhog day. The universe seems to reset itself every time he falls asleep and only he seems to remember what happened. And after having all the fun you could think of having when there are no lasting consequences, a funny thing happens, the meaningless pleasures become, well meaningless, and he starts to actually improve himself and become a better human.

Ever since it came out this film has been popular with spiritual people of all faiths because it shows progression of self-improvement and placing value on things that actually matter as just about all religions actually call for. For New Agers it works as an allegory for a very abbreviated form of reincarnation and movement toward enlightenment. Bill Murray as Phil Connors works his way both through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (First food, then sex, then money, followed by thrills and the fun stuff we’d always like to try but never have the guts to) soon, he, like all of us, become both fixated on something of value and something which is just out of his reach (in this case Andie MacDowell’s love). As these lower pleasures give no lasting pleasure he tries to find something that lasts for more than a single day. But as he cannot find it by being his shallow petty self he becomes depressed.
In spiritual discussions of a lot of religions there is always a point where a person has progressed far enough to understand that the world isn’t enough to bring Happiness, but, in spite of deeply held faith (and oddly usually because of it) a person will hit a point where both the material world they have left and the spiritual world they have yet to fully enter both become meaningless and bereft of hope. “You want a prediction about the weather, you’re asking the wrong Phil. I’ll give you a winter prediction: It’s gonna be cold, it’s gonna be grey, and it’s gonna last you for the rest of your life.” In Christianity this period is called the dark night of the soul. It’s a necessary spiritual point, but also a dangerous one as the soul hits rock bottom and feels it has nothing to lose. In the case of Groundhog Day this manifests in repeated suicide attempts.

“I have been stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted, and burned. […] and every morning I wake up without a scratch on me, not a dent in the fender… I am an immortal.”

Luckily, like most people, he arises from the dark night with the help of a higher power believing in him which allows him to again continuing through the levels of Maslow’s hierarchy to work on issues of personal improvement, achievement and self actualization. After passing through the dark night he ceases to be fully fixated on only himself which actually allows him to better himself (which harkens back to my constant point that there is an extreme difference between narcissism and rational self-interest, between materialism and finding joy in the material world). And by becoming a better person he actually becomes a much happier one.

“Whatever happens tomorrow, or for the rest of my life, I’m happy now… because I love you.”

This movie works as a good movie for New Agers because, more or less this is what we believe happens to us through reincarnation. We get sent back life after life after life, confronted with the same problems over and over and over again until, like Phil, we learn how to deal with them. There is no limit to how much time we can take to learn, there is no force other than our own desire for happiness that forces you to learn. But if we wish to escape the particular cycle we are in, we must learn.

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Filed under Death, Faith, Free Will, God, Happiness, Humor, Love, New Age, New Age Movies, Purpose of Life, Reincarnation, Religion, Spirituality