UNBOXING THE BACKPACK -Groundhog Day – A New Existential Year
Since the 1993 film by Harold Ramis and Bill Murray, the term “Groundhog Day” has become synonymous with mundane repetition and blind redundancy in our daily lives and work. The term has become a catchphrase for people describing the empty and repetitive nature of their work or even their life. However, the movie was never really about that. Instead, the film’s message about meteorologist Phil Connor is about rebirth and the possibility each day of making our seemingly boring, repetitive lives what we really want them to be.
Let’s face it, on February 2, New Year’s resolutions fade, fitness centers become regulars again, and we’re all mired in winter chores. These times are ripe for a bit of pop culture existentialism, and Harold Ramis and Danny Rubin’s original film puts that long, cold winter, weird little vacations, and the repetitiveness of everyday life into perspective. Watching the story of a disgruntled weatherman who ponders the absurdity of a rodent weatherman offers a second chance at self-reflection and reinvention in the middle of winter. The conceit of the movie isn’t just the ridiculous vacation, but also the inexplicable weirdness of Phil Connors’ predicament.
The film groundhog day is actually a wonderful introduction to the wisdom of existentialism, and when I taught philosophy in my college literature class, I often began or concluded with a viewing of Bill Murray’s brilliant portrayal of a man trying to give a meaning to a life it just seems absurd. Obviously, the idea of living the same day over and over again in an unsatisfying and mundane place and repeating the seemingly senseless tasks of useless work is portrayed as a curse and a cruel joke. This awareness is in fact at the heart of existentialism. Life is meaningless, and the absurdity of it all can make us think that our whole existence is meaningless. In the film, Phil spends many years in this disgruntled manner, viewing his life as a cruel joke. However, the movie changes when Phil sees his situation as an opportunity to get it right.
Granted, Phil’s initial reaction to his epiphany of a life without consequences is to indulge his baser fantasies. It’s understandable – who wouldn’t at least consider that? He seizes the opportunity, drinking heavily, smoking indiscriminately, gulping down coffee and pastries, manipulating women, and even robbing an armored car. Of course, the freedom and control he ultimately gets is freedom and power over those primitive, materialistic urges. Even hedonism and debauchery become seemingly boring after a while. A pivotal moment finds Phil sitting quietly in the cafe reading, when he notices a piano playing in the background. Rather than just enjoying the music, he seeks out a teacher and begins to learn piano, offering his piano teacher “a thousand dollars if we could start today”. He is also proficient in other art forms like ice carving, but most importantly, he deeply learns the details, hopes and dreams of the people in his life.
groundhog day is a film with a message — each of us will wake up again and again to the same existence that sometimes seems pointless. The only point is that you have the rest of your life to make it exactly what you want it to be. Making sense of our daily lives was central to many American writers like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, whose poem “A Psalm of Life” advised us that “neither joy nor sorrow is our end or our destined way. , but to act that every tomorrow finds us further than today. The point is progress; the goal is better and better. What F. Scott Fitzgerald called Gatsby’s “Platonic conception of himself” was simply the eternal quest for the ideal, the striving to become our very best. Life is an endlessly repeated opportunity to improve. In Bill Murray’s role as Phil Connor, we can find a a second chance at New Year’s resolutions and an opportunity to, in the words of Henry David Thoreau, “live the life you imagined”.
So, rather than a sad story about emptiness, the film and the day is a great opportunity to rethink and embrace the rich potential of our lives every day we live. Think about it. And maybe even consider watching groundhog day to brighten and warm dark winter days.
Michael P. Mazenko is a writer, educator, and school administrator in Greenwood Village. He blogs at A Teacher’s View and can be found on Twitter @mmazenko. You can email him at [email protected]