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Ways of Reading Groundhog Day. A Buddhist film?
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Ways of Reading Groundhog Day A Buddhist film? “In Mahayana nobody ever imagines they are going to escape samsara until everybody else does. That is why you have bodhisattvas, who reach the brink of nirvana, and stop and come back and save the rest of us. Bill Murray is the bodhisattva. He is not going to abandon the world. On the contrary, he is released back into the world to save it.” But this is not even remotely analogous to the plot of the film. Bill Murray does not reach the point of escape only to deliberately stop and stay within the cycle to save everyone else. He has no choice over the matter, and he is the only one who is trapped in the cycle of repetition in any case. Angela Zito, quoted in Alex Kuczysnki, “Groundhog Almighty,” New York Times, Dec. 7, 2003.
Ways of Reading Groundhog Day A Christian film? “The groundhog is clearly the resurrected Christ, the ever-hopeful renewal of life at springtime, at a time of pagan-Christian holidays. And when I say that the groundhog is Jesus, I say that with great respect.” But even if we grant that the groundhog represents the resurrected Christ, how does that help us understand the film? Not all films with depth are allegorical. Michael Bronski, quoted in Alex Kuczysnki, “Groundhog Almighty,” New York Times, Dec. 7, 2003.
An impossible fantasy? Phil: What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered? Ralph: That about sums it up for me. The actual events of the film may be impossible, but Phil’s problem is an impossibly exaggerated version of a problem that is meant to strike us as all-too-familiar. Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis, Groundhog Day.
Day 3: Their Rules Phil: Let me ask you guys a question… What if there were no tomorrow? Drunk: No tomorrow? That would mean there would be no consequences. There would be no hangovers. We could do whatever we wanted! Phil: That’s true. We could do whatever we want… It’s the same thing your whole life: “Clean up your room.” “Stand up straight.” “Pick up your feet.” “Take it like a man.” “Be nice to your sister.” “Don’t mix beer and wine, ever.” “Don’t drive on the railroad tracks.” Phil obeys the rules, but the rules feel like constraints imposed from outside. Fear of the consequences of breaking the rules are his only reason for keeping them. When the consequences are removed he feels liberated to do anything he wants. (Phil is like the chess-playing child who at the beginning of MacIntyre’s parable has every reason to cheat if he knows he can get away with it.) Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis, Groundhog Day.
Day 4: “The Wretch” The wretch, concentred all in self,Living, shall forfeit fair renown,And, doubly dying, shall go downTo the vile dust from whence he sprung,Unwept, unhonour’d, and unsung. Sir Walter Scott Sir Walter Scott, The Lay of the Last Minstrel (New York: C.S. Francis and Co., 1845), 161.
The Aesthete “[Henry James’s novel] The Portrait of a Lady has a key place within a long tradition of moral commentary… The unifying preoccupation of that tradition is the condition of those who see in the social world nothing but a meeting place for individual wills, each with its own set of attitudes and preferences and who understand that world solely as an arena for the achievement of their own satisfaction, who interpret reality as a series of opportunities for their enjoyment and for whom the last enemy is boredom.” Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, 3d ed. (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007), 25.
Piña coladas for all eternity? Phil: I was in the Virgin Islands once. I met a girl. We ate lobster and drank piña coladas. At sunset we made love like sea otters. That was a pretty good day. Why couldn’t I get that day over and over and over… (Phil’s initial reaction to his predicament is that of an aesthete. The problem for him is not that he is repeating the same day, but that the day he is repeating isn’t enough fun.) Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis, Groundhog Day.
A Change of Attitude “… so long as it is the candy alone which provides the child with a good reason for playing chess, the child has no reason not to cheat and every reason to cheat, provided he or she can do so successfully. But, so we may hope, there will come a time when the child will find in those goods specific to chess, in the achievement of a certain highly particular kind of analytical skill, strategic imagination and competitive intensity, a new set of reasons, reasons now not just for winning on a particular occasion, but for trying to excel in whatever way the game of chess demands. Now if the child cheats, he or she will be defeating not me, but himself or herself.” Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, 3d ed. (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007), 188.
The Day Before Tomorrow Phil: No matter what happens tomorrow or for the rest of my life I’m happy now because I love you. Phil is a changed man, no longer the self-centered wretch we met at the beginning of the film. But even here we may doubt that his happiness is complete – does it really make no difference what happens tomorrow? Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis, Groundhog Day.
Tomorrow Phil: Something is different. Rita: Good or bad? Phil: Anything different is good… but this could be real good. Phil never set out to become a better person, but he has become one. He has been transformed, and so has his conception of what it is to live well. His insight was arrived at gradually, not through argument but through trial and error and, above all, practice. Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis, Groundhog Day.