Groundhog Day: The Beauty of the Do-over

Posted: March 5, 2013 by John C. Kwasny, Ph.D. in Comedy, Drama
Tags: , , , ,

groundhog-day-movie-posterThis year is the twentieth anniversary of the Bill Murray film, Groundhog Day.  Yes, I know I’m nearly a month late (since we celebrate this very important holiday in February) but I actually saw it in the theater in March.  So it works.  And, I remember this movie well because I took my wife and her twin sister (and her husband) to see it on the twins’ birthday twenty years ago.  They all hated it. But of course, I absolutely loved it.  As you can imagine, we had quite a heated discussion about it.  Don’t you just love defending a beloved movie against unjust attacks!

So here’s my argument for what is truly one of Bill Murray’s finest films (yes, Ghostbusters,  Meatballs, Caddyshack and Stripes are each very  funny, but without much meaning).  Like many of the other early movies written by Harold Ramis, Groundhog Day could have just degenerated into wild stupidity (like Animal House).  Instead, this story of a weatherman who lives Groundhog Day over and over again ends up giving us a near perfect picture of sinful humanity that is redeemed and sanctified.  And you thought it was just a silly Bill Murray flick!

Phil Connor (Bill Murray)  is a self-absorbed, arrogant, wanna-be celebrity who is all about self.  After a miserable day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, covering what he calls a “forecasting rat,” Phil awakes to Sonny and Cher on the clock radio and is doomed to live Groundhog Day again.  And again.  And again.  Without totally spoiling the movie for you, let’s outline the process of the transformation of Phil Connor (more or less in the following order).

1.  He lives the day in total denial.  This can’t be happening to him!  It must just be a horrible nightmare.  He hopes that when he goes to bed, he’ll wake up and it will finally be tomorrow.

2.  Phil then just indulges himself.  Back in the local cafe again, he eats and eats and eats–all manner of sweets and treats.  What does weight and health matter now?  He believes he is immortal, so tomorrow will never come and there will be no consequences for his self-indulgence.

3.  He tries to manipulate people for his own pleasurable ends.  He finds out information about a local girl one day and the uses that data the next day to seduce her.  What else can he do trapped in the same day but use people for his own self-satisfaction?

4.  He uses his day to get to know Rita, his TV station producer and love interest.  At first, he just pays attention to things that will help him win her over.  Later, he actually wants to get to know her to have a real relationship with her.  Yet the day just keeps repeating itself, caging him in futility.

5.  Phil attempts the obvious solution to this endless repetition of Groundhog Day–killing himself.  Surely a fiery car crash or some other sort of mercy killing would absolve him from this purgatory.  But, he still awakes in the same bed-and-breakfast the next morning, alive and well.

6.  Beginning to see the meaninglessness of all his other machinations, Phil uses the day to try to rescue other people.  In a highly poignant series of scenes, he repeatedly tries to save a dying homeless man, to no avail.  Phil comes to the grim reality that he can’t really save anyone, including himself.

7.  Finally, Phil arrives at the conclusion that he simply needs to live Groundhog Day to the full.  He just strives to be a better man.  In a sense, he arrives at the Scriptural ideal of “godliness with contentment is great gain” (I Timothy 6:6).  And then, he is released from his bondage.  Phil has finally been transformed.

Do you see how this beautifully illustrates the process of change from self-centeredness to goodness?  To put it in Christian terms, Phil had been sanctified by the repetition of endless Groundhog Days.  He grew in his understanding and wisdom.  He learned his limits as well as his potential.  He changed from using people to serving them instead.  This is the glorious beauty of the “do-over!”  Phil Connor was given the opportunity to go from being a miserable man who truly hated the town he was stuck in, to being the most popular and beloved man of all Punxsutawney.  The overgrown rat was no longer the real Punxsutawney Phil–Phil Connor was.

Now, you and I don’t have the luxury (or the absolute frustration) of living one day over and over again.  But the truth is that we do have exactly what Phil had–a series of near endless “do-overs.”  For the Christian, each day is a day to be sanctified by the Word and Spirit–to learn from our mistakes and be more of what God wants us to be.  But even more than that, we have the glory of God’s mercies that are new each and every day.  While Phil Connor woke up to “I Got You, Babe” on the radio, we get the awesome privilege of waking up to our Heavenly Father declaring that He has us in the palm of His mighty hand.  Praise God today for the beauty of a daily do-over!

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