Groundhog Day The Movie, Buddhism and Me

Prof. Franz Metcalf: Groundhog Day The Movie, Buddhism and Me

Franz Metcalf (http://mind2mind.net), author of Just Add Buddha and Buddha in your Backpack, emailed me this commentary on Groundhog Day:

"Groundhog Day" might be the most underrated films of all time (another obvious candidate is "Babe"), so it's a pleasure to write a few words about it here. Paul has assembled some notes and links exploring the film's "Buddhist-ness." As a Buddhist author I should jump on that bandwagon, so I will, but then I'm going to jump right back off.

Yes, the film fits nicely into a religious model that includes rebirth. And, yes, Hinduism does provide one such model. But Phil doesn't become a classic exemplar of a jivan mukti, a "released person," the goal of religious practice in mainstream Hinduism. An exemplary jivan mukti renounces the world for some version of life outside society. Instead, Phil stays in the city--even after he has clearly broken the bounds of his egocentric self--and devotes the seeming eternity of his ever-repeating day to helping the people of Punxsutawney. For someone who knows them, the words of the Four Great Vows taken daily by millions of Mahayana Buddhists all over the world, come immediately to mind:

Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to be saved with them.
Desires are inexhaustible, I vow to let go of them.
Dharma gates are boundless, I vow to enter them.
The Buddha way is unsurpassable, I vow to embody it.


Phil exemplifies the bodhisattva (literally, "being of awakening"), the sincere traveller on the Buddha way, devoted to the unending work of saving all sentient beings. As Phil saves every citizen of Punxsutawney, so the bodhisattva saves every living creature in the world. Naturally this goal is impossible (notice how Phil cannot save the old man), yet it is also impossible for Phil or the bodhisattva to refuse the challenge. This is the way the world works and true freedom is found in this world or it is never found at all.

Fine. It's a Buddhist movie. And yet its specifics are entirely devoid of any self-consciously Buddhist content. What are we to make of that? Let's not overthink this, let's simply say the obvious thing: it just doesn't matter that (or if) it's Buddhist. As His Holiness the current Dalai Lama says, it's not important to be Buddhist, it's important to be wise and kind and happy. Phil becomes those things and that's what matters.

It's for this reason that I enjoyed the quote Paul provides from Ezra Bayda. In a Buddhist magazine, a Buddhist author, Bayda, writes that Phil's "real success lies in breaking free from the repeating patterns of his personality." Naturally this is not in opposition to a Buddhist direction--or any other truly spiritual direction--but in harmony. What we see in the film is Phil finding freedom. Freedom from his restricted personality. Freedom in his restricted day. As his wisdom deepens, Phil realizes that not all restrictions are oppressive. Some, like those of compassion and care, are the place of freedom itself.

In the excellent running commentary on the deluxe DVD release of the film, a member of the creative team (director Harold Ramis, I think) reveals that, after the film's release, folks from all sorts of religions contacted him, congratulating and thanking him for making this movie the presented their religious views. How delightful and how believable! The openness of the film, its devotion to character not message, are what make it work, what make it so convincing. That openness has allowed the multitude to enter. In contrast to the offerings of too many high profile religious leaders, here we are given a wide gate, and though the path is long it is not narrow. Phil shows us that anyone can walk it. In fact, that everyone is walking it, already, together.

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Other material. This is a chronological "blog" of new Groundhog Day material as it accumulates; much of it once resided on the home page, but that page had become too large.

Commentary from Prof. Franz Metcalf, (http://mind2mind.net), author of Just Add Buddha and Buddha in your Backpack

The name Ned Ryerson

New York Times Feature Story on Groundhog Day, The Movie

Boston Globe Anniversary Appreciation

French (Jaques Brel) in the restaurant and Walter Scott (The Wretch) in the Diner

Paul Schindler's Blog Comments On Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day Links and Metalinks

Groundhog Day Script Writer Danny Rubin

Groundhog Day Star Bill Murray

Groundhog Day Director Harold Ramis

New Yorker Profile of Groundhog Day Director Harold Ramis

Groundhog Day essay in Stephen Simon's book, The Force Is With You: Mystical Movie Messages That Inspire Our Lives

Groundhog Day essay by Mario Sesti in the Museum of Modern Art catalog for, The Hidden God: Film and Faith

Groundhog Day by Ryan Gilbey, published by the British Film Institute and the University of California Press.

The Italian remake of Groundhog Day .

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