Every day’s the same. Maybe Sonny and Cher don’t wake you up every morning just so you can cover Punxsutawney Phil’s ascent to the surface of the Earth on the morning news, but it’s the same regardless. There are teeth to brush and hair to comb before your morning commute to a job that numbs you. There are bills to pay, doctors appointments, food choices, annoying and stupid people you have to put with, and oh, the traffic!
Maybe that cupcake you picked up after work as a special treat for getting through the day once has turned into a ritual that zaps your energy and softens your middle. Maybe you look forward to six o’clock because that’s when you let yourself crack your first beer. Maybe you can’t help getting into the same fights with your husband or your mother or your son. We drug ourselves and lull ourselves, and tell ourselves it’s the only way we can survive in a brutal world. We say we are the sensitive ones, the good-hearted and true beings in a world gone wrong, and we can’t help but seek any and every way insulate ourselves against the assault of survival.
But maybe that’s a lie. Maybe we aren’t such Special Someones that we deserve to be comfortable all the time. Maybe we don’t deserve our dreams to come true unless we fight for them. Maybe living our dreams is something different than what we think it is, anyway. Maybe our survival and existence is not only dependent, but enhanced, by working with and considering the needs and motivations of other people. We are creatures of habit, but when we wrap ourselves up in our unblemished opinions of ourselves, the loops and routines we work out for ourselves can end up ruining our lives. It’s only when we seek self awareness, slip out of solipsistic ego nightmares, and make changes to some of our behaviors that we can live a fuller life. We often think misery is external when it is truly internal.
In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s character Phil Connors is essentially seeking to be “lovable,” but he doesn’t know it until the madness of his suddenly surreal life and his slightly repressed longing for Andie MacDowell’s approval and affection force him to face himself. It’s like an existential fairytale where Bill Murray is both the princess and the villain.
Part of what makes this movie so classic (besides, of course, Bill Murray’s performance,) is the lack of explanation. Apparently there was a back story at some point about a voodoo spell, but it seems like the right decision to leave that out. Metaphors and fairytales don’t always need reasons. They can be models that help us see a boiled-down truth by stripping away some of the conventions of how we perceive reality. It’s also a modern Sisyphean tale, ripe with existential scenarios that seem to be inspired by the thoughts of Sarte and Camus. The transitory and monotonous nature of life that we all experience to some degree, is pared down for Phil Connors. After his first initial confusion over his new situation, he is exhilarated by it. What could be a nightmare turns into a fantasy where he is, as he puts it, a God. He can eat what he wants, do what he wants and do everything in his (still limited) power to manipulate everyone around him like puppets.
But, that gets boring. He soon falls into despair because the benefits (and consequences) of the the previous day inevitably disappear. He attempts suicide repeatedly, but even that sends him right back to the glare of a “You’ve Got Me” morning. His “salvation” comes when he starts to be nice to people even though they won’t remember it. What matters is that he does remember it, and it makes him feel good in a way that stealing, sex, and massive amounts of dessert just didn’t quite touch. In a way, it’s the ephemeral nature of each “life” he experiences that makes his moments precious to him.
Phil’s able to break his own spell through discovering and cultivating his ability to love, and changing his entire demeanor, attitude, and approach to life. It’s not too precious of an ending, it’s a romantic comedy and a bit of a morality tale where the sweetness rings true. There is very little in this world we can change, that we can be a “god” over in our lives, but our attitude is something we very much can change, though we often don’t want to believe it. We kind of like our groundhog days and shuffling through our same old miseries. We cling to evidence of the vast uncertainties of the universe and inequalities of our societies to distract ourselves from that small and powerful world we can create within ourselves.
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