Last time I posted I wrote a short, choppy eulogy to Harold Ramis about his most excellent comedies. However, I left one of his movies off of the list: Groundhog Day. I have wanted to teach this movie in an English class of some sort in connection with the myth of Sisyphus and existentialism.
For those of you who have not been blessed with watching this movie, A) watch it and B) it’s simply one of the best movie depictions of existentialism and the different stages associated with it. Groundhog Day depicts the story of a narcissistic television weatherman by the name of Phil Connors, played wonderfully by the master, Bill Murray, who is forced to live February 2nd over and over again in Punxsutawney, PA.
In living the grinding monotony over and over again, Phil asks two of the town’s blue collar workers what they would do if they had to live the same day over and over again and nothing they did ever mattered. Sadly, the men’s drunkenness replies for them. After Phil realizes that if nothing he does matters and if it will always be February 2nd, then he enters the first stage of death: hedonism. If nothing can affect him, then he will do everything. He will drive a car on the train tracks, run the car into a mailbox then cheekily give a fast food order to the policemen who come to take him away. He proposes marriage to a woman, knowing that tomorrow today will be wiped away. He pigs out on high fat and sugary food and takes up smoking. He robs an armored truck. Then he tries to seduce his producer Rita, played by the lovely Andie MacDowell. All this fails to work for him.
At this point, Phil moves into the second stage: despair. He begins to commit suicide, repeatedly and in different ways, including kidnapping Punxsutawney Phil and running his vehicle into a quarry pit where it explodes. You can see this scene below. I love it when Phil tells the groundhog not to drive angry.
While a funny scene, at the heart of it is Phil’s misery with his inability to die and to change his situation.
Once Phil realizes he can’t die, he then moves to believing he’s a type of “little g” god. His arrogance falters when he realizes he can’t stop a homeless elderly man dying every day. Because he can’t stop death nor cause his own, Phil finally accepts his impossible position. With this acceptance and with Rita pointing out the possibility of infinite lifetimes, we see Phil blossom into a wonderful human being. A musician, philanthropist, hero, philosopher and a weatherman who sees the misery of an endless winter with the brain of Chekhov but with the heart of someone warmed by the daily mercies, graces and compassions human beings give to each other in an otherwise bleak existence. Phil finally sees February 3rd when he becomes a fully developed human being who puts others first in everything he does. In fact one of the first things he says to Rita when he wakes up on February 3rd is “What can I do for you today?” Because ultimately, isn’t what we do for others all that matters in the end?
I leave you with some of Ramis’ thoughts on his movie.