“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.