Groundhog Day is one of my favourite movies. Clever writing and perfectly timed edits build a humorous, poignant, and challenging story that unrolls three of my favourite themes:
1. Long-lasting happiness doesn’t come through material things or self-indulgence; it comes from making a valuable contribution to society.
2. Life-long learning enriches the self and society.
3. People have to true to themselves, and they can’t control other people’s actions or emotions.
At the beginning of the movie, Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is a self-centered, cynical jerk. Through an unexplained circumstance he finds himself reliving February 2—Groundhog Day—over and over and over. Every day after his clock radio clicks over to 6:00 a.m. and he hears the same Sonny and Cher song, he meets the same people and re-lives the same events, trying to figure out what he has to do to escape the repetitive loop. Goofing off on the job doesn’t do it. Eating every creamy dessert in sight doesn’t help. Suicide attempts don’t work. When he falls in love with Rita (Andie MacDowell) he tries to make her fall in love with him. He pretends to be something he isn’t. He plays tricks, and he pushes too fast, too soon.
1. Eventually he begins to notice people he can help: women in a car with a flat tire on Main Street, a choking victim in the restaurant or a homeless man in the alley.
2. Eventually he decides to learn new things: he becomes an excellent piano player, a master ice sculptor and learns to speak French.
3. Eventually, he evolves into a compassionate, interested person who allows others to be who they are.
That is, of course, when the cycle breaks.
If I were to mention the three themes above in casual conversation, most people would nod in agreement. True, long-lasting happiness doesn’t come from a store. True, learning new things just makes life so darned interesting. True, we can’t control or other people’s actions or emotions.
But those commonly accepted rules aren’t so easy to live.
1. No matter how much we know that material things or self-indulgence won’t bring us long-term happiness, we still pine for a new car, Häagen-Dazs Dark Chocolate ice cream, a designer bag, a 52-inch flat screen, the latest electronic gadget . . .
2. We come up with excuses to avoid new challenges. We’re too tired, too old, too young, or we have no time, no money, no proper equipment . . .
3. We pretend to be something we’re not just to try to impress others. We try to shape other people according to our expectations. We push them to quit smoking, get fit, wear different clothes, change their hair, get higher grades, quit drinking . . .
If you never watched Groundhog Day, or if you dismissed it as a mindless lark, I invite you to visit it, or revisit it, over and over and over.
It seems the themes need repeating.