Please Note: This article is not a recommendation to watch the film Groundhog Day without first reviewing whether it is appropriate for you or your children. Please consider all content before making a determination as to who in your family can watch this film. You can find some helpful information here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0107048/parentalguide
It is Groundhog Day and we are all excited to find out whether or not the groundhog will see his shadow. We are excited, not because we think the groundhog is a prophet, but because it is a part of our American legend. One of my favorite traditions in celebrating this American myth is to watch the classic Bill Murray film, Groundhog Day.
There is much to complain about in the ‘art’ that comes out of Hollywood and invades our living rooms and culture. Some of that is in this very film. I want to complain, but every once in a while some goodness, beauty, and truth sneaks into one of these Hollywood films—in spite of Hollywood, one could argue. Nonetheless, there it is. I think this is true of the film Groundhog Day (Columbia Pictures Corporation, 1993).
Bill Murray’s character, Phil, is one of those people who dominate the characters around him. He is controlling and egotistical. In fact, at the beginning of the film, Phil is very upset because his boss has dominated him by forcing him to go to Punxsutawney for Groundhog Day. He responds by trying to dominate those around him by belittling them, and through name-calling and sarcasm. Punxsutawney Phil, as the groundhog is affectionately known, becomes the “rat” to Phil.
The next day, when he awakes, he finds that his life is in a loop that is forever repeating this particular Groundhog Day. At this point, the film becomes very Ecclesiastes-esque. Forced to relive the day over and over again, Phil rightly assumes that he will break the cycle if he can just accomplish some unknown goal. As Phil tries to pursue happiness, his life goes through all of the phases that Solomon warns against in Ecclesiastes.
Phil tries finding happiness through the pursuit of wealth. He tries finding happiness through drunkenness. He tries finding happiness through recklessness. He tries finding happiness through women. He tries finding happiness through knowledge, especially knowledge of his attractive producer, Rita, played by Andie MacDowell. All of his efforts fail, and Phil begins to understand that this is his life and he will be forced to live with it.
As a result, he gives up the quest to dominate the world around him and he begins to just live in it. He begins getting to know his neighbors and trying to love them. In fact, he actually begins to love them. On his last night of the day of repetition, he spends the evening with his producer, Rita. Over and over again, she sees Phil loving his neighbors, helping them, and serving them. As Phil becomes a loving servant to his neighbors, he simultaneously becomes a ruler in his own right. Rita begins loving the one who loves. Phil becomes a ruler of her (at least emotionally) and the community of which he is a part, simply by becoming a servant to them.
Groundhog Day is a favorite movie of mine because it enables me to participate in the American myth of Groundhog Day, not in a religious way as other nationalistic holidays sometimes feel, but in an American way. It enables me to see the vanity of life which Ecclesiastes describes, without having to experience it myself and in a way that helps me feel it and then teach it to my own family. And, Groundhog Day helps me to see the virtues of being a servant ruler. I can share these virtues with my family, as well.