Tuesday, February 02, 2016

A Stunning Allegory of Moral, Intellectual, and Even Religious Excellence About a Big Rat

Like 2013's Groundhog Day Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow, thereby auguring an early spring. Groundhog Day was a quirky custom in an out-of-the-way town--it didn't rise in the popular consciousness until the 1993 film.

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.

Bill Murray's character, Phil Connors, is trapped. Even when he despairingly "kills" himself he wakes up the next morning in the same hotel bed to the strains of Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe" on the clock-radio.

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.

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.”
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.

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,”

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