There are some films that, whenever I stumble upon them while channel surfing, just make me stop what I’m doing (including getting ready for bed) and compel me to watch, no matter how many times I’ve seen them. The Godfather. Dances With Wolves. Star Wars. The Shawshank Redemption. Star Trek II. Field of Dreams.
And Groundhog Day.
Cable made it a little easier for me this year by running the film several times this week in various time slots. And now that the kids are old enough to enjoy it, we’re going to watch it together this year.
So why is this a “drop everything and watch” film for me?
For one, it’s still one of the funniest films I’ve ever seen. In case you’ve been living in a cave or been without TV since 1993, here’s a synopsis: Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, a bitter, self-centered TV weatherman who resents having to do another live broadcast from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover the annual Groundhog Day festivities. After giving his report he and his crew (Andie McDowell and Chris Elliott) are forced by a blizzard to spend the night in town. When he awakes the next morning, it is still February 2nd, but he’s the only one who feels he’s reliving the day. This becomes a seemingly endless cycle (according to director Harold Ramis, lasting anywhere from 20-40 years) of Phil having to endure the same day over again until he finally learns to care about other people more than himself (he even seems to go through the five stages of grief regarding the loss of his old “self” — all to great comic effect).
Only after reading some movie threads on Buddhist message boards did I realize this film is a favorite among Buddhists. Phil having to relive the same day over and over again until he essentially loses his ego can be seen as representing the endless cycle of rebirth before reaching Nirvana. I’ve also read where Catholics have seen parallels in the film with the concept of purgatory. The Independent (UK) had an excellent article in 2004 on the various religious themes people have found in the film.
As an agnostic when it comes to Buddhist rebirth, what I get from the film (aside from the laughs) is the real importance of introspection, of challenging our habits and perceptions connected with the idea of “self.” I don’t think any of us has the luxury of endless Groundhog Days to get things right with life. But I believe we can use the days we do have to achieve the same thing.