“Now that I’ve shed my skin completely,

One true reality alone exists.”

Zen saying


Amid the twin excitements of Super Bowl and blizzard, we vaguely recall that today is also Groundhog Day, which was nothing more than a rather witless locally-oriented celebration until Harold Ramis’ brilliant movie of the same name.  It was and is my all-time favorite message film.

Groundhog Day explores the everydayness of life with an ingenious premise worthy of Kafka or Camus: an arrogant newsman from Pittsburgh (Bill Murray), named Phil (like the groundhog) finds himself trapped in Puxsatawney, PA, where, over and over, he wakes up at 6:00 a.m. to Sonny and Cher singing “I Got You, Babe,” and he and his producer and cameraman have to do the same local-color Groundhog Day story, day after day after day.

At first he can’t believe what’s going on.  When he does catch on, he uses his newfound “power” to learn more and more about an attractive local woman (who’s always meeting him for the first time) and get laid.  Of course, that’s what any guy would do. 

Coping strategies

He soon realizes he can do anything – even kill himself -- and still wake up to Sonny and Cher the next morning.  There’s no way out.

So bit by bit, his coping strategies turn positive.  He starts to take piano lessons (every lesson is the “first” one for the teacher) and gets better and better.  He rescues people from predicaments that he knows are going to happen. 

He makes many attempts to bed his beautiful producer Rita (Andie MacDowell) and, after many slaps in the face, sheds his arrogance and snarkiness, becomes a real person…and one day awakes to Sonny and Cher – with Andie in bed beside him.  Something has changed!

Existential message

Just as secular Humanists have begun to adopt Festivus and make it a festival of their own, so should we consider co-opting Groundhog Day as a celebration of the predictability of life as a context in which it is WE who must change.

Think of it: you will awaken tomorrow morning, with the same fundamentals all in place: the same mind in the same body with the same partner (or no partner) beside you, in the same house, with the same job and relatives.  The people around you will continue to be who they are.  If your boss was a demented tyrant yesterday, he/she will still be one today.

The macro environment changes a little, but it doesn’t affect many of us directly.  Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, insane religions and political doctrines will still have the same powerful grip on the human mind.  Muslims will still be killing each other, and Christians will still be trying to take over the US. 

Ancient superstitions and rivalries will be as strong and destructive as they were yesterday.  The battle between scientific truth and religious fantasy will continue unresolved.  At least one Muslim will blow him/herself up, and Americans will continue to die in foreign wars.  People will continue to blather about saving the planet even as they destroy it.  Politicians will promise change, but the only change will be that government will get bigger, and there will be more war. 

Reactions to life

Marvelously predictable, isn’t it?  And we react just like Phil – we can’t believe it (SURELY my wife/kid/boss/situation can change; it MUST!).  We try all kinds of things to get away from it.  We go to bars, football games, churches, and casinos.  We run away to addictions of all kinds.  Anything to “get away.”  We even try to kill ourselves, quickly (suicide) or slowly (drugs, alcohol, work).

But perhaps on Groundhog Day, we can realize, as Phil eventually did, that through it all, the only thing that we can certainly change is our own mind and behavior.  Like Phil, all we can do is keep at it until we get it right.

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Comment by Alan Perlman on February 3, 2015 at 4:57pm

The quote, a piece of universal wisdom, is probably impossible to trace to a  single source.  

Spud, you hit on one of the mysteries of art: what was intended vs. what was perceived (relevant to my profession -- speech writing - as well).  You enjoyed it - that's all that matters.  Consumers of art may find information, symbolism, and import that the artist insists he didn't (consciously) intend.  But to them, it's there.  

Comment by Idaho Spud on February 3, 2015 at 2:26pm

Harold Ramis, the director, said that many religions congratulated him for showing their point-of view.  I think he said he never meant it to be any philosophical view.  Just an interesting and funny movie.  And that's how I enjoy it.  For me, It's mostly just funny.

Comment by Grinning Cat on February 3, 2015 at 12:59pm

As also expressed in Buckaroo Banzai: "Remember, no matter where you go... there you are."

Comment by Alan Perlman on February 3, 2015 at 12:46pm

Thanks, Michael.  Coincidentally, the groundhog bit the mayor this year!  

Yes, Randall, you got it.  Even if we change our situation (and I know people who travel compulsively), wherever you go, as Ram Dass put it, there you are.

Comment by Randall Smith on February 3, 2015 at 6:37am

I can't help but think in cliches: "T'was ever thus" and "same ol', same ol'". Pity.

Comment by Michael Penn on February 2, 2015 at 5:50pm

Very well put Alan. BTW, in the making of that movie Bill Murray was actually bitten by the groundhog several times. I'm not sure he wanted to wake up to that every morning.

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