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Groundhog Day and My Spirituality

February 2, 2013

Groundhog Day is a cult classic. Over the course of time, it has received a great deal of critical acclaim. Rotten Tomatoes has given the film a 96% ranking. The Guardian recently ranked it as the 20th greatest comedy of all-time. There is no doubt that on the surface there are a lot of comedic elements in the film. However, if you look deeper, you will find that there are also many of spiritual elements as well. The film doesn’t just offer comedic relief, but it also provides a framework on how to live a fulfilling life.

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The star of the film is Phil Connors, played brilliantly by Bill Murray. We first meet Phil on a television set doing a weather report. Phil is a narcissistic weatherman and a curmudgeon. He is placed on assignment to cover the groundhog ceremony in Punxsutawney. Phil has spent many years in the past covering the event and dreads his visit every time. On the way to the ceremony, we meet the angelic Rita, played by Andie McDowell. Rita is a television producer that is new to the network. She is seemingly humble and represents many things that Phil is not. It doesn’t take long before Phil becomes enamored with her.

When Phil wakes up for his first Groundhog Day he is extremely bitter. He spends his first morning at a quaint BNB in town. After he wakes up, he complains to the BNB operator about the lack or cappuccino and espresso. On his way into town he blows off a former high school classmate, Ned Ryerson, when he sees him in the street. He begrudgingly gives the groundhog report and bitches and complains the entire time he does it. He attempts to leave for Pittsburgh and is sent back to his BNB after a storm hits. At the BNB, he complains about the lack of hot water. The next day, Phil wakes up and finds that it is Groundhog’s Day all over again. He is in a bit of a state of shock. Again, he continues to complain. He thinks about all of the other people that he could be spending the day with and all of the other places he would rather be.

The day repeats itself over and over again to the point where Phil can’t take it anymore. He becomes rebellious. He drives on the railroad tracks. He gets placed in jail. He overindulges in food. He smokes cigarettes. He starts to embrace his newfound immortality. When Rita mentions poetry, he mocks her and laughs in her face. He says that he is egocentric to which she replies, “I know that you are egocentric. It is your defining characteristic. “ Over the course of the next few repeat days Phil uses his immortality to gain knowledge about local women in the hopes of sleeping with them. It is evident that Phil is having fun but is not particularly happy.

Over the course of time, Phil changes his outlook and starts to focus on Rita and ways that he can use his newfound power to end up with her. He spends his countless days learning about her. He becomes infatuated with her. On a side note, what is it about Andie McDowell and infatuation? The same exact thing happened to Kirby in St. Elmo’s Fire. She must have spellbinding charm. Anyway, Phil spends his next few days learning her favorite drinks, chocolates, ice cream, and poetry. His interests are very contrived. They aren’t necessarily things that he cares about. He is more concerned about learning about things that will help him close the deal with her. He spends time having snowball fights with kids. In the end, Rita catches on to Phil’s lack of genuineness. She says that she could never be with a guy like Phil because he only likes himself. A very self aware Phil replies, “That’s not true. I don’t even like myself.” Then we see a montage over and over again where Phil gets rejected and slapped by Rita. Clearly, taking an interest in her in a contrived fashion is not the way to her heart.

After the repeated rejections, Phil becomes very depressed. He constantly complains about the weather. He gives half assed groundhog reports. He seems his immortality as a curse and attempts to kill himself on multiple occasions. He tries to fall off a building. He attempts to kill himself by dropping a toaster in the bathtub. He attempts to drive a truck off a cliff. Nothing seems to work.

In a moment of clarity, one day Phil starts to see things a little bit differently. He starts to look outward. He cares for a homeless man on the street that he had previously routinely passed by. He provides the man with food and shelter and even attempts to save his life. Ultimately, nothing works and the old man dies. Phil then decides to devote his repeated days towards self-improvement and developing a positive attitude. He learns to play the piano. He hugs a gentleman who he had been very quick to dismiss to start his day. He learns to ice sculpt. His groundhog report that had once been bitter all of the sudden depicts the town and the people in a very positive light. After he gives his incredible report that wins over the townspeople, instead of fashioning ways to court Rita, like he had done in the past, he devotes his time to helping members of the community. He saves a young boy who had fallen out of a tree. He helps a group of elderly women with a flat tire. He helps a man named Buster by giving him the Heimlich maneuver. He devotes his attention towards bettering situations.

All of these positive events throughout the day end in a celebration where Phil is the star. He uses his newfound piano skills to entertain the guests. He dances with Rita, who he has not seen throughout the day, and everyone is thanking him for his selfless acts of kindness. She is wowed by him and confesses that he is not the man she thought he was. She likes him so much that she even bids on him at the auction and wins. She is rewarded by him ice sculpting a replica of her face. At night, they go to bed and the next morning he finally awakes and it is no longer Groundhog Day. He has awoken. He has captured the heart of the woman of his dreams and in the process become so enamored with the town and the people that he states that he wants to live here. He has everything he could want and more. He doesn’t complain about the people. He doesn’t complain about the environment. He embraces things for what they are and attempts to make them better. Phil has transformed.

So what does this have to do with my spirituality? I went to a Jesuit high school called St. Joseph’s Prep. Bill Murray went to a Jesuit high school called Loyola Academy. He also went to college at Regis University, a Jesuit university in Colorado. The Jesuits have multiple philosophies that I adhere to. One is the notion of being a “Man For Others”. It involves living a life dedicated to helping and serving others. It entails putting others ahead of oneself. It is through this that the Jesuits believe people can live a fulfilling life. In this film, as Phil begins to snap out of his funk, he becomes a man for others. He uses his repeating days towards helping and serving people in and around town. That plays a vital role in his fulfillment but it is not all.

The Jesuits also have a word they often used called magis. Magis means “the more”. It means living a life that utilizes all of your abilities and in the process helps others utilize their own. It doesn’t mean pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion but rather pushing yourself to the point where you get the most out of your talents. Clearly, Phil is a person who seeks the magis. He is a person who develops the ability to ice sculpt, to play the piano, and to become a very well rounded person. His gifts become a gift to others. People enjoy listening to his music. People enjoy looking at his ice sculptures. When Phil becomes aware of his own abilities and puts them to use that is when Rita takes interest. She doesn’t fall in love with him because he takes a contrived interest in her. She falls in love with him because he has taken an interest into using his talents to help others. When Phil becomes self-aware, embraces the day, devotes himself to helping others, and puts his talents to positive use, he finally wakes up. He finally starts to live. That philosophy is at the core of my spirituality.

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