How Bill Murray became the stand-in for world-weary travelers.

If you watch 2003’s Lost in Translation and 2005’s Broken Flowers back to back, the latter almost plays as a sequel to the former, even though they have different directors (Sofia Coppola and Jim Jarmusch, respectively) and casts and so on. It’s an easy conclusion to make, since Bill Murray stars in both films and certainly his character from Broken Flowers, Don Johnston, could be Lost in Translation’s Bob Harris a few years down the road — rich, lonely, and trying to rediscover his place in the world.

But it goes a bit deeper than that: In both films, travel is the catalyst for a sea change in each character’s life. In Lost in Translation, a flight to Japan and its accompanying jet lag underscores the alienation creeping into Harris’s life in the States, where, to some extent, carpet samples have replaced affection. In Broken Flowers, Johnston’s alienation has been fully realized, and a hopscotching trip across the country is supposed to soothe those feelings. But an endless procession of generic hotel rooms and rented Tauruses only makes it worse.

In both instances, Murray’s topographical map of a face, with the slightly sardonic, mostly blank look that appears on it, is a perfect representation of those emotions — before he even says a word. He’s quicker with a quip than most, but Murray still comes across as something of an Everyman. More specifically, he comes across as every business traveler forced to construct a life away from friends and family and, just as important, his own environment, with room service and rental cars as his only building blocks. It’s a tough gig, and you feel every bit of that in Murray’s performances. He’s almost like a silent-film star in both movies, able to convey everything you need to know in each scene merely by his body language.

So I guess the question is, how did this happen? For most of Murray’s career — from his stint on Saturday Night Live in the late 1970s to his decadelong run as a bankable Hollywood star, beginning with 1981’s Stripes and continuing through 1989’s Ghostbusters II — there wasn’t much of an inkling that he was anything more than a talented comedic actor. If that’s all he ever did — and I absolutely do not use all in this case as a pejorative — that would be fine. Better than fine, actually. Better than most other actors’ entire résumés.

Groundhog Day, in 1993, gave us another typical Murray role. But as he played the unbearably cranky weatherman Phil Connors, forced to live the same day over and over, the second act of Murray’s career could be glimpsed, if only fleetingly. During the stretch of the film in which Connors had stopped having fun with his fate (robbing banks, picking up women) and had started despairing over it (taking baths with toasters, driving off the edge of a quarry), you could start to see the archetype he would winningly inhabit in Lost in Translation and Broken Flowers, as well as in his welcome-to-the-new-me breakthrough performance in 1998’s Rushmore.

(Murray’s crabby, bemused performances in those flicks seem to be much closer to his offscreen personality. Quick aside: A friend of mine, when he was a kid, met Murray in an airport. After briefly professing his fandom to Murray, the actor took a beat, stared back, and asked him to tell his parents that he had some seriously messed-up teeth. Then he turned and walked away, leaving my friend with his mouth open, showing off those seriously messed-up teeth. It’s very easy to imagine that scene taking place in almost all of Murray’s recent films.)

The fact that he doesn’t have an Academy Award on his mantel for Rushmore — or for the other two, for that matter — is yet another example of how Hollywood often gets it wrong come Oscar time. (See also Scorsese, M.) Maybe that kind of disappointment only adds to Murray’s portrayal of his world-weary, beyond-disappointment characters. If so, his loss is obviously our gain.

But since Murray embodies the soul of the traveler so accurately on-screen, I’m sure there are quite a few people who’d like to see him catch a bit of sunshine at some point, if only so they’d feel a little better about their next week of to-go coffee and hotel conference rooms. Maybe when he starts avoiding movies like Garfield (and its sequel!), he finally will. That would be good for all of us.