I came across the movie 20 years ago on HBO. At first glance it was a cleverly written comedy about a jaded, world-weary weatherman who mysteriously must re-live Groundhog Day over and over again.
Phil-the-human cannot escape, yet in a sense he is totally free. He can commit any number of sins without consequence because he will have a fresh start tomorrow. No one but he remembers what he did.
Repeated viewings struck a chord. The movie plumbed deep waters. And I'm not alone in that realization.
In the years since its release the film has been taken up by Jews, Catholics, Evangelicals, Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans, and followers of the oppressed Chinese Falun Gong movement. Meanwhile, the Internet brims with weighty philosophical treatises on the deep Platonist, Aristotelian, and existentialist themes providing the skin and bones beneath the film’s clown makeup.The movie ends on a hopeful note. Phil makes positive changes of his own free will, without expectations of a reward. Only then is he released from the prison of endless repetition.
theology professor Michael P. Foley wrote that Groundhog Day is “a stunning allegory of moral, intellectual, and even religious excellence in the face of postmodern decay, a sort of Christian-Aristotelian Pilgrim’s Progress for those lost in the contemporary cosmos.”
Part of the genius of Groundhog Day, the movie, is that it doesn't pummel you with philosophy. It invites you to think, but if you just want to laugh, that's ok, too. As Jonah Goldberg observes,
We’re talking about the movie in which Bill Murray tells a big rat sitting on his lap, “Don’t drive angry,”