“Groundhog Day”: A movie for the Feast of the Epiphany
DVD “special features” are a mixed bag, but the interview with “Groundhog Day” director Harold Ramis and writer Danny Rubin confirms that I’m not the only person out there who sees this movie in religious terms.
What appeals to my former Unitarian self is that Ramis says that people of many faiths–Buddhists, Hindus, fundamentalist Christians, Catholics–respond very similarly to the themes of revelation, renewal and free will. All of which we celebrate this weekend on the Feast of the Epiphany, a holiday that often gets sadly lost in the circus of Christmas and New Year’s.
The movie is not especially subtle (Bill Murray’s in it), but it’s provoking and non-preachy (Bill Murray’s in it). Briefly, Murray is a self-centered weatherman sent to cover Groundhog Day in Punxsatawney, Penn., gets snowed in overnight with his producer Andie MacDowell and camera man Chris Elliott. When Murray wakes up to what ought to be Feb. 3, it is Groundhog Day all over again. And it remains Groundhog Day for many days, with only Murray aware that there has been some glitch in the time/space continuum.
Murray, cynical and opportunistic, is at first amazed, then delighted, and finally disillusioned with the power that comes from a day for which there are no consequences tomorrow. He seduces women, steals money, beats up annoying acquaintances, goes on eating and smoking binges, and finally kills himself several different ways, only to wake up to another Groundhog Day.
The glitch in time is restored only after a series of hard-won epiphanies on the part of Murray’s character, a sort of finding of the sublime through the ridiculous.
Dicussion questions for those who care to see it:
1. Imagine what Murray’s life will be like in 20 years. Imagine it had he not experienced Groundhog Day.
2. Why is Groundhog Day an appropriate day for Murray’s transformation to begin?
3. What role does free will play in Murray’s change of heart?
4. What does this movie say about the difference between knowledge and wisdom? Give examples of how Murray uses or exploits knowledge. Give examples of how wisdom governs his knowledge.
5. What does this movie say about one man’s ability to shape events and change lives? Give examples.
6. In what ways is the glitch in time a punishment? In what ways is it a gift?