On the Importance of Groundhog Day (the movie)

Today is Groundhog Day and sure enough, its easy enough to find the 1993 film of the same name that you can usually find playing on AMC or TNT and it’s one of those movies (just like Red Dawn, Dirty Dozen, Jeremiah Johnson, etc) that I just have to watch if its on.  At the time I first saw it,  I also knew it for another reason as it featured the quirky Chris Elliot in it whom previously you would see as a bit actor in many David Letterman skits.

And it has one of my favorite movie lines in it of all time (in my Top 10 anyway), after watching Bill Murray try to commit suicide by driving the stolen truck over the cliff of the quarry and taking the groundhog with him, from above Chris Eliot filming the entire thing consoles Andy McDowell by saying “He might be OK”, and then after a giant fireball explodes the truck, he decides “well, no, probably not now”

For those who have not seen it, this is straight from Wikipedia:

Murray plays Phil Connors, an arrogant and egocentric Pittsburgh TV weatherman who, during a hated assignment covering the annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, finds himself in a time loop, repeating the same day again and again. After indulging in hedonism and numerous suicide attempts, he begins to re-examine his life and priorities.

In 2006, the film was added to the United States National Film Registry as being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

For years, I always liked it but never thought that much more of it and then last year I read of a theological movie festival that had oddly selected “Groundhog Day” as one of its main movies to be watched and then have group discussion on.  And then I starting finding out how this simple movie was selected as one of the Top 50 Catholic Movies of all Time.

And back in 2001, the San Francisco Zen Buddhist Center selected “Groundhog Day” as their featured movie for a philosophical discussion.  There was an exchange about doing the right thing for the wrong reason and the wrong thing for the right reason.

Paul Schindler retells the below story (http://www.schindler.org/psacot/20010813_ghd_other.shtml)

Harvard professor and film critic Stanley Cavell contributed to a New York Times Magazine article on September 29, 1996 (the hundredth anniversary of the Magazine), in which he was asked to identify a film since 1971 that would last a century. He selected Groundhog Day:

A small film that lives off its wits and tells a deeply wonderful story of love. It creates a vision of the question I ask here — of what will endure. Its vision is to ask how, surrounded by conventions we do not exactly believe in, we sometimes find it in ourselves to enter into what Emerson thought of as a new day.

He asked Prof. Cavell to elaborate in February 2006:

I too am a fan of Groundhog Day….It is obviously a challenge to be taken with some grain of wit — if you start thinking seriously of the wonderful films made in the past three decades that you are truly grateful for, you could not choose one against the rest without feeling nutty — so I looked for a small film (not, for example, The Godfather) that was both serious and witty and that it would be a welcome challenge to try to capture in a long sentence. No film really came to mind that satisfied me that it was really serious and witty enough to put forward, and also that came together with my philosophical taste. When at the last moment Groundhog Day presented itself, the choice made itself.

While I have published 17 or 18 books, I think I may have received more pleasant acknowledgments of my little notice of Groundhog Day, and certainly from more unpredictable places, than about any other piece I have published. I include among what I call “pleasant acknowledgments” the one that took me to task for being preposterous in choosing Groundhog Day over so many other really serious works.


In The New Yorker dated Nov. 10, 2003, on p. 48, Charles Murray, the neoconservative author of Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950 is asked which artistic accomplishments after 1950 might make one of his top 20 lists:

“The movie Groundhog Day,” he immediately offered. “It is a brilliant moral fable, offering an Aristotelian view of the world.”


I even find it mentioned in a book on the exploration of theology in Movies


But most interesting to me about all of this odd theological attention being given to a quirky, light comedy is the discussion that follows when you ask people who have seen it  – How many days was Bill Murray stuck in time?  How long would it take him to become a expert piano player with a 1-hour lesson each day, to carve ice sculptures, tossing playing cards into a hat…..apparently director Harold Ramis has sort of already answered it on the DVD commentary of the film – he suggested that 10 years seemed like an appropriate time and then later in an interview, he changed his mind with the following observation “I think the 10-year estimate is too short. It takes at least 10 years to get good at anything, and allotting for the down time and misguided years he spent, it had to be more like 30 or 40 years…”

How a movie directed by the man who brought us Animal House, Meatballs, and Ghostbusters – has crossed the line from silly fantasy comedy to important work of art – just seems crazy, there is no way he ever saw all of this attention coming.


About bradosterloo

.NET Software Developer working for Innovative Systems, LLC in Mitchell, SD
This entry was posted in FunStuff, Movies, Personal and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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