I think we should all thank Harold Ramis for one great thing in life, which is giving us the gift of his film Groundhog Day for us to celebrate every year. It’s probably the only movie that dedicates this day and does it in such profound, brilliant, and hilarious way. Everyone knows the story of course, and its one we can’t help but watch over and over again. I was 11 when this movie first came into theaters and I absolutely fell in love with it then. But over the years however, my point of view of this film has changed. When I was younger, I saw it as a kind of morality tale, where the universe is playing a trick on an egotistical, self-absorbed jackass, to make him into a more humble loving human being. But in more recent years I’ve come to see something completely different. To me this is a film about spiritual growth and transformation. What happens is every day Phil Connors is stuck in this time warp, it’s like watching each layer peel itself away that he’s built up in his lifetime, until his spiritual center is truly revealed at the end of the film. He is not only spiritually centered, but he finds the compassionate human being he always was but never knew. The universe, which he sees as a menace in the beginning for putting him in this time warp, it reveals itself to be a kind of spiritual teacher, helping to put Phil through all the stages of spiritual transformation.
The first of that step is discovering he can do whatever he wants. It becomes an opportunity for him to fulfill all of his physical desires…eating unhealthy food, smoking like a chimney, punching the annoying Ned Ryerson in the face, driving his car on the railroad tracks, and acting out in all the ways he’s free to do when the next day there are no consequences. But there are consequences he doesn’t realize at first. They turn out not to be external, but what he carries with him through the next day.
When he gets bored, he tries getting the beautiful Rita, his producer to sleep with him. He uses every day to charm her, but when she sees he’s just trying to sleep with her and get what he wants, it all flies back in his face when he discovers the one thing he really does want he can’t get. He‘s seeking a prize he can never truly own, and when he discovers he can never truly be happy with himself as he is, it leads to depression and then suicide. But even though because of the time warp he can’t actually physically kill himself, the truth is Phil actual does die, but it’s a spritual death. It’s the death of his old self. When he finally starts to realize he has no control, at the same time, he also realizes he‘s been given a gift. He can do whatever he wants. So he starts to work on himself, doing all the things he’s wanted to but never allowed himself to have, like become a piano master, take up ice sculpting, speak French, he helps the towns people, saves lives, and winds up becoming the most beloved person in town. Probably the most important and final stage for him is the sequence with the death of the homeless man, where he discovers he has no control over life and death. While his newfound passion for life brings him closer to Rita, the fact that she does end up falling in love with him and he’s able to break free from the time warp…it doesn‘t matter. Phils own experience in the time warp probably amounted to 10 years of his life. But in the end the result is a man who finds for himself that tranformation of the spirit, and he reveals for himself the life that was always waiting for him but couldn’t see from the very beginning.
So in honor of celebrating the day, today is a good day for a classic film such as this, at the very least just as a reminder that the life we’ve always wanted was always there to begin with. Groundhog Day is a tremendous story which truly speaks volumes. If you’ve seen it a hundred times already, one more time probably wouldn’t hurt. 😉