Favorite Movies A-Z: Groundhog Day

Everybody and their dog (couch?) has probably written an appreciation of Groundhog Day. It’s easy to see why. The movie meditates on a number of universal truths filtered through the comic lens of Bill Murray’s antics. As such it appeals on both a simple comic level and as an illustration of important truth. It’s a clever conceit, not original to this movie, wherein a man is trapped in a loop reliving the same day over and over.

What is perhaps original to this film is that it is such a mundane man and such a mundane day. Too much has been made of how this mundanity leads to great spiritual awakening. There is nothing particularly religious or spiritual about what happens to our trapped protagonist. The truths he apprehends tend to be the same philosophic truths that do not require revelation to apprehend; they are part of the common store of humanity. Though at times we forget or ignore them, they are the province of the Gods of the Copybook Headings.

Since it is agnostic on the topic of religion, it makes it quite simple for just about any religious adherent to map a portion of their beliefs over it. If that’s what turns your crank, knock yourself out. But I prefer to enjoy other things, so I’ll not be mapping Christianity over the top of this movie.

The movie is pretty meticulously crafted. Most folks won’t notice on their first few watches that the boy in the tree appears earlier when Phil takes the old, homeless man to the hospital. The scenes in the diner and the recurring background characters generally are excellent. Bill Murray does a great job of connecting with people in ways that bring their characters to life; a credit to his acting sure, but perhaps even more so the directing of Harold Ramis (who also cameos as the doctor that does Phil’s x-rays).

Murray’s transitions as his situation becomes apparent allow us to journey with him in a satisfying way. We consider at each step how we would react to that circumstance and that emotion. He moves through surprise, confusion, uncertainty, exploitation, despair, resignation… I dare say any number of other emotions. Divide the stages how you please. The whole is well done enough that it feels nigh seamless as a transition from his first bewilderment to his final peace and acceptance.

I don’t know what, if anything, it means, but it’s pleasing that release is not determined by him solely becoming a better, kinder man. Just as it is mysterious how and why this begins, it’s mysterious why and how it ends. Personally, it seems to that the key change is that he must become content, but I’m not wedded to the notion. This then is perhaps what ultimately makes the movie so pleasant to watch over and over. We enjoy Phil’s journey, and the mystery endures so that each time we can ponder it anew.

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