Groundhog Day The Movie, Buddhism and Me
Stephen Simon Essay
Released in 1993, Groundhog Day is a wonderful human comedy about being given the rare opportunity to live several lifetimes all in the same day. Of course, that's not how the film was marketed but, for our purposes, I believe that concept is at the soul of the story.
Bill Murray plans cynical weatherman Phil Connor who gets sent to Punxatawney, Penn., for what has become his annual covering of Groundhog Day, an even he dreads and loathes. Phil is an equal opportunity punisher of all around him, most particularly Rita (Andie McDowell), the segment producer on the shoot. After the event, the crew is stranded by a snowstorm and forced to stay another day. Waking up the next morning (to the sounds of Sonny and Cher singing "I Got You Babe" on the radio), he discovers that it's Groundhog Day all over again. Everyone and everything is the same except for him. And it keeps happening. Day after day after day.
At first, he seers it as the perfect way to hone his seductive designs on Rita. Every day he learns more about her and then uses it the next day to impress her. For her, everything is new each day. Ultimately, he realizes nothing is going to get her into bed in just one day. He gets depressed, so much so that he actually tries to commit suicide. Several times. Several ways. The problem is he still wakes up the next morning at 6 a.m. to Sonny and Cher.
At first, he goes through, in precise order, the five stages of dealing with death: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. After a while, he decides that he should probably do something better with his life, and he actually starts to help people. By now, he knows absolutely everything that is going to happen in that town on that day so he can, for instance, always be under the right tree to catch a boy who falls out of it--or perform the Heimlich maneuver on a choking diner, etc.
Finally, he has really changed and Rita does fall in love with him, for who he actually is on that particular day. That night, she does fall asleep with him and, when he awakes the next day, Groundhog Day is finally over and he can move on with Rita, a changed man.
The film is very funny in the beginning, but, as it progresses, you see there is more at work here than just a wonderful premise. It is obvious that this experience is happening over hundreds of days to Phil, maybe even thousands, and we see him evolve. Each day, he learns something new about himself and the world around him, and he uses it the next day.
In the beginning of his experience, Phil uses these insights for ego-centered reasons, but he gradually begins to realize he has a greater purpose for being alive and begins to utilize those insights to grow and interact more positively with the people around him. Groundhog Day thus provides a perfect metaphor for the lessons we seek from lifetime to lifetime. We learn and grow in each one as we evolve.
If time has no meaning (and for Phil, it doesn't), then who is to say what one day signifies? In Inherit The Wind, Henry Drummond, the character based on Clarence Darrow, asks Matthew Brady, the character based on William Jennings Bryan, about the definition of a "day" in the Bible. Confirming that even the Bible did not determine how long "a day" is, Drummond presents a theory t hat, without the measures we have now for a day (the sun), that it could be of indeterminate length. "Could be 24 hours, could be a week, could be a month, could be a year, could be ten thousands years!"
Groundhog Day is a metaphor for that growth process and has become a common term now in modern life for a day that seems to go on forever. When a phrase from a movie takes on that kind of life ("Trust the force, Luke") there is something going on in our hearts and minds that extends well outside the confines of a strip of film.
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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.
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.
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