(Movie - 1993) Groundhog Day directed by: Harold Ramis
(Reaction) The Pros and Cons of Eternal Life by: Francis Gabriel Concepcion
What would you do if you had a thousand lifetimes? In a sense this is the operating question that surrounds Bill Murray’s character, Phil, in Harold Ramis’s Groundhog Day. As Phil relives the same day over and over again, he is struck by problem of what to do with the time that he has on his hands—and how to get out of the loop. He goes through several motions throughout the film, all of them leading towards his eventual change of heart.
Phil starts out a jerk. He’s rude and offensive. He mocks everyone around him and thinks he’s worth much more than people give him credit for. He basically thinks he’s the man. But he’s lonely and doesn’t seem to have any real friends. Instead, his focus is on his work and how he could step onto the next level of his career. That’s why he loathes going to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover the Groundhog Day festival for the third time in three years.
One thing that’s worth pointing out in this film is how it very closely resembles certain concepts of reincarnation. Phil relives this one day over and over specifically because he can’t seem to get it right, and it’s only when he gets it right that he is finally able to step on into tomorrow. In a sense, Phil is constantly being reincarnated, and he will continue to reincarnate until he finally evolves to the next level.
Now the whole scope of the film feels very short. In fact Harold Ramis would say that 10 days were represented in the film, whereas the writer, Danny Rubin, would say something like 23 days were represented. However, representation doesn’t mean that the whole tirade of Phil living and reliving Groundhog Day simply lasted 23 days.
If we judge the level and number of skills that Phil would master over the course of the film, we all know that learning the piano and ice sculpting alone would constitute decades of practice. In fact in Buddhism, they say that it takes 10,000 years for a soul to evolve to the next level. So I imagine it took the same amount of time for Phil to have a change of heart.
According to actor Stephen Tobolowsky, who plays Ned Ryerson in the film, Ramis and Rubin used the seven stages of death and dying in the film: recognition, denial, depression, anger, and acceptance. Each of these stages is reflected throughout the course of the film, and proves to be important in Phil’s evolution.
Until he arrives at the acceptance of his situation, and changes his outlook of it, he’ll continue to be stuck in the same day. Throughout the 10,000 years, then, Phil moves from looking at his situation as a crutch to an opportunity to learn and to grow.
No matter what happens tomorrow, or for the rest of my life, I’m happy now, he says near the end of the film.
More than the dramatized aspects of reincarnation, however, I want to take a closer look at how Phil Collin’s predicament in Groundhog Day also leads to certain glimpses of the character and nature of God—in this case, our concept of the Christian God, Yahweh.
I’m a god… I’m a god. I’m not the God, Phil tells Rita after consecutive attempts to kill himself. Of course, Rita doesn’t believe him.
Is this some kind of trick? Rita asks him when he tries to prove that he’s a god. Phil answers,
Well maybe the real God uses tricks. Or maybe he’s not omnipotent he’s just been around so long he knows everything.
I want to transpose Phil into the person of God for a moment and see just how the movie is, in a sense, able to encapsulate the experience of being the God of creation.
For starters, there’s the issue of time and space. Theologians argue God to resign somewhere outside of time and space, hence giving him omnipotence and omnipresence over all creation. That suggests that in God’s realm, there is no sense of time. Time is everywhere all at once. In Phil’s case, however, he does experience the flow of time, but only to a certain extent. He has no recognition of the future, only a recognition of the past. Yet, because he’s stuck in the same day and experiences events happening again and again, over and over, he has indeed gained knowledge of the future.
When he tries to convince Rita that he’s a god, he narrates to her future events as though he were some sort of prophet. In this instance at least, Phil is able to foretell the
future but since he’s stuck living the same day over and over, to him, there is no past and future, only the present.
If God, then, were located outside of time, his experience of it might very well be just like what Phil was experiencing. He’s seen future events happening over and over, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t influence them in order to create an alternate present. This is exactly what Phil does with his time. Every day is somewhat different for him because he goes out and does things differently. Hence, everyday, people’s activities and actions differ on account of Phil’s own actions.
Like God, Phil can influence the future, can prophesy, and can change it. Of course, in Phil’s case, there are certain things that he cannot change. He cannot change the fate of the old beggar, for example, that dies at the end of every Groundhog Day, but he can change how the beggar lives right before his death.
Then there’s Phil’s growth into this kind and benevolent soul. At the beginning he’s stubborn, obnoxious and rude. He always wants to get his way and complains and punishes people if they don’t give him what he wants. Because of all he’s learned in those 10,000 years, however, there was a shift in the way that Phil looked at the world around him. He began to appreciate everything in his world and do all he could to make it better.
In relation to God, a reading of the whole Bible indicates a certain change in operations when it comes to the relationship between humans and the Almighty. In the Old Testament, God can tend to be quite ruthless in His punishment towards sinners, and is depicted more as a disciplinarian and an authority figure. In the New Testament, we are given a glimpse of the love, grace, and patience of God towards sinners. We are reminded over and over of God’s overwhelming love that He gave up His own son that the world be saved from sin.
The similarities between Phil and God in this respect, are pretty close. Thus, it raises the question of whether or not God is indeed an unchanging God. If God’s experience is anything at all like Phil’s, is it possible that we’ve just been given a rare glimpse at who He is and what He’s experienced living outside of time and space?
Groundhog Day is one of those movies that doesn’t look like much at first glance, but once you go further and deeper into the film, there’s tremendous richness and wealth to behold. I loved watching every minute of it. It was entertaining as well as moving—and you hardly get that experience from a lot of movies nowadays. It makes you think, and it makes you feel—placing it, I dare say so, somewhere between a box office hit and an elusive art film.