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"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?



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For inveterate collectors of trivia, Bill Murray's sister is actually a Dominican nun. like Bill Muarray a lot-- I liked him in Lost in Translation, which might be the answer to your question 1

I just returned "Broken Flowers" to Netflix, another answer to #1. Loved it, as I do everything by Jarmusch.

I saw Groundhog Day a few years ago, and I think it was an in-flight movie at that point. I enjoyed it pretty much at the time, but my recollection is not up to answering your questions. I do like Andie MacDowell's commercials for that hair product, whose name I do not remember.I can't help wondering if your question about free will was influenced by the piece this past week in the Science Times section of the NYT. Maureen Dowd made a whole column out of it in the NYT today. I think that conceptual confusion pervades discussions of "free will" but the hour is late here in the North East and I say no more.

I liked Jim Jarmush's "Down by Law"--Never seen "Broken Flowers"--I'll have to rent it.I think Groundhog Day is interesting because it presents a "cosmic do-over"; seemingly offered by a benevolent cosmic being that doesn't want to coerce us (free will and all).I sometimes wonder whether traditional Christianity (Catholicism) came across that way--though I don't remember it . I get the sense that in the old days, God was just waiting, lips smacked, for one mistake--so he could send people to Hell. There's an element of truth in that old view, in the sense that Christianity is about redemption, not a do-over. Redemption means taking what you did and transfiguring it in some way, not erasing it.But with Murray, I guess, in Groundhog Day, the events weren't erased -- until he got it right (I think).

No, didn't see the Dowd piece or the item on free will when I wrote this, though I have seen Andie McDowell on TV commercials.I've found that "catechism at the movies" opens more discussions with my son, 11, than the local CCD class, so I picked this out as one of our holiday shows.

I remember seeing the film, but must have seen the in-flight movie with Joe. My memory of it is not perfect, given the inevitable distractions, but I do remember thinking the projects heart was in the right place even if the details might not have been worked out too carefully. I liked Jeans questions, especially the last one. So often in interesting films thematics seem to work two ways, say quite opposite things, at once. So that sort of question can open up intriguing possibilities. I teach some hybrid courses with online and in-class components and this last semester the online conversations included an interesting discussion of the powerful appeal-- even for adults-- of the many films for children that present their protagonists with problems that can only be resolved when the characters enter a dreamlike parallel world where they can act more freely than in their own time and place. Ground-Hog Day may have been aimed at an adult audience, but the film was about growing up, and in many ways would have fit right in with the others we looked at. Come to think of it, of course, Shakespeares comedies often worked the same way: put your characters in an impossible position and then send them off to the magical greenwood to play out the hoped-for resolution that gets them their hearts' desires. Impossible happy endings--who can resist them?

I guess I look at Murray's experience in the movie as the redemptive gift of suffering, one of those paradoxes mystics love that we plodders sometimes find annoying. What I like about the movie is that the transformation takes place off screen. We see him suffer, and then we see him transformed. The miracle is invisible, as are most miracles, including the way Scripture describes Christ's suffering and his return.None of the Gospel writers even tries to explain what happened between the passion and his first appearance.How it happened isn't the point, though that's often a sticking point in belief--if we don't know HOW it happened, how do we know THAT it happened. Interesting point about fantasy fiction. Though a lot of Shakespeare's comedies strike me as a bit hollow. Everybody comes out of the greenwood on the verge of marriage with the appropriate partner, but has anybody really been transformed?You don't see any epiphanies except in those "problem" comedies, like "Taming of the Shrew" and "Merchant of Venice," and there the epiphanies are unsettling. You can see in them the seeds for marital problems ahead, I think. It's only in the tragedies that the characters get any epiphany moments, always on the verge of death when it's too late to do anything but say they're sorry. Which is why they're called tragedies, I suppose.Ew. That all sounds a bit pompous, doesn't it?

Jean, I think I finally get it. You were setting us up for Registration, which turns out to be a replay of Groundhog Day. I hope the "suffering" pays off. I have yet to feel any good effects!

Re-registrant coupons good for 2 free lattes or 10 years off your stint in Purgatory (void where prohibited, not transferrable) will be coming to you shortly, Joseph.I couldn't get in, either, but I think I might have messed up my original e-mail, which required some type of special handling.Thanks to Commonweal for attending to problems, both "user error" and otherwise!Anyway, I'm not hearing "I Got You, Babe" anymore, which is a relief.

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