Understanding the true meaning of ‘Groundhog Day’

By Joy Carrico | Published Saturday, January 30, 2016

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The movie “Groundhog Day” is misrepresented by society. It drives me nuts when people say something like, “This is like ‘Groundhog Day!’ I hate it!”

By this, they mean they feel trapped in their lives, living the same thing over and over. They may be miserable and trapped, but using “Groundhog Day” as a description of that feeling misses the whole point of the movie. They need to rewatch it.

Joy Carrico

Joy Carrico

For those who haven’t seen it, the plot is simply this: A TV weatherman finds himself stuck reliving the same day over and over while he’s covering a Groundhog Day festival.

Be warned, I will reveal the ending, but the movie was made in 1993, so I’m guessing this is not a big problem. Those who have been meaning to see it have had 23 years.

On Feb. 1, Phil (played by Bill Murray) is sent to Punxsutawney, Pa., to cover Groundhog Day for the fourth year in a row. He meets the producer who will travel with him, Rita (played by Andie Macdowell), and his face briefly reveals that he is enraptured by her. He says something biting to kill the moment, and they proceed.

Phil does many things in these early scenes to show us that he is a jerk and justifiably disliked.

The next day he hastily and sarcastically covers the story and tries to get out of town, but a blizzard prevents travel. Stuck in Punxsutawney, he goes to bed hoping to get out the next day, only to wake up to discover that it’s Groundhog Day again. Everyone else is in a loop doing and saying the exact same things. He is the only person aware that the day is repeating itself.

He spends his first few Feb. 2nds trying to get out of town. When that fails, he goes to the doctor. He finds no answers and nothing changes. He wakes up to another Groundhog Day.

At this point, it occurs to him that if nothing he does makes a difference, he can do whatever he wants. He proceeds to binge on junk food, smoke, drink, lie, cheat, steal, take advantage of women, and do anything and everything he wants to do.

Alas, debauchery eventually grows boring, and he turns his attention to seducing Rita.

Rita is a very likable character. She is good-natured and able to handle Phil’s callous and cynical demeanor.

Phil begins devising the perfect date. In scene after scene, he messes up and starts again on the next Feb. 2 trying again until he hits the mark.

After many, many attempts, he finally does everything right enough to get her to his room. She cannot be seduced and figures out that he has been manipulating her. She slaps him across the face and storms out. He receives slap after slap, night after night, as he continually fails to trick her into bed.

He loses all hope, and on the first of many suicides, steals the groundhog and a truck and drives them both off a cliff … and wakes up to another Groundhog Day. He kills himself over and over.

This leads him to proclaim that he’s a god. “I’m A god. I’m not THE God,” he tells Rita. He reveals his predicament to her, which she doesn’t believe at first. He proves it to her by revealing everything he knows about everyone at the diner they are in, including her.

They spend the day together, and she is intrigued by his situation. She suggests to him that maybe he isn’t cursed, maybe he’s blessed. It depends on how he looks at it.

He’s done lying, cheating, stealing, manipulating Rita or committing suicide. None of these things was the answer.

A panhandling old man gets Phil’s attention. The man is obviously sick, so Phil takes him to the hospital where the man dies. Phil makes it his mission to keep the man alive, trying over and over. But, sadly, it’s always the old man’s time to go, and Phil is powerless to change this fact. Not a god after all.

Having looked everywhere else, Phil has only one place left to look – in the mirror. He embarks on a self-improvement regimen. He reads books, learns ice sculpting and learns to play the piano.

Finally, we come to the last Feb. 2 of the film. It begins with him doing his job. He has done this same report countless times, and yet he gives it all he’s got, doing the best job he has ever done. Rita is so impressed that she asks him out for coffee. He politely declines, asking for a raincheck, saying he has errands, which turn out to be good deeds he does every day.

That night Rita goes to the Groundhog celebration and spots Phil on stage playing with the band. He’s the life of the party, being thanked and generally admired by everyone. She is amazed. Rita and Phil spend that evening together. Their interaction is easygoing and natural. He doesn’t try anything. At the end of the evening, he tells her that no matter what happens tomorrow, he’s happy now, because he loves her.

And then he wakes up and it’s Feb. 3. Tomorrow finally came. The movie ends with Phil exclaiming to Rita “Let’s live here!”

This is a movie about redemption. Some unknown great power forces Phil into a corner where he must learn to give to the world (and to himself) merely for the sake of it. It changes him from a jerk who hates living through every day to a kind man who has found a way to be content with repeatedly living through the same day and has no need for the day to be over.

Phil has done nothing to deserve this relentless series of chances at living life well. He is just given the gift of being steered toward the life he longed for but was incapable of experiencing on his own.

This is a movie where an undeserving, miserable human is making a mess of life when some power intervenes and leads him patiently and unswervingly to something good. Sound familiar?

So if someone ever again tells me that their life is like “Groundhog Day,” I’ll tell them “That’s excellent news!”

Joy Carrico is a graphic artist for the Messenger.

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