Back when I was in college, I started to get really into Hitchcock and classic Hollywood, and as a result had almost zero interest in contemporary Hollywood products. I saw Pulp Fiction (1994) only at the insistence of friends, and reluctantly went to Shawshank Redemption (1994), which I found to be a waste of time at that point in my life and probably would today. When someone recommended Groundhog Day, which was already a couple years old at the time, I thought there would be no way I could enjoy it. A few years ago, a roommate practically forced me to watch it, and, like Harold and Maude (1971), it was a film that not only changed the way I think about movies, but changed the way I think about life. Of course I am far from the first to be effected this way by Groundhog Day.
The plot is well known, but to summarize: Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, an egotistical weatherman from Pittsburgh goes to Puxatony to cover Groundhog’s Day, an annual assignment he despises almost as much as he looks down upon the town locals. His bad day becomes worse when he and his crew are snowed in and forced to spend another night in the small town. Although the reason is never explained and really doesn’t need to be, Phil beginnings reliving the same day over and over again, which he remembers but no one else does. After trying suicide, throwing caution to the wind with all imaginable forms of excess, and using his situation to take advantage of other people, Phil finally decides to use his unique predicament to improve himself and help others.
The film is doubtlessly the most spiritual film ever to come out of a Hollywood studio. The story touches on themes of self-improvement by turning outward to help others, spiritual transcendence, Buddhist concepts of selflessness and rebirth. The central theme echoes and idea presented in Paulo Coelho’s novel The Alchemist: “When each day is the same as the next, it’s because people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day that the sun rises.”
Of course Groundhog Day is also a Bill Murray film, meaning it is very funny with the potential to be deeply touching, such as the scene in which he tries desperately to save the life of a homeless man, and fails, having to accept the inevitable cycle of life and the limitations of his powers.