Since we all feel like we are living the same day over-and-over again due to the Covid-19 lockdown I thought it would be fitting to write about one of my all-time favorite modern-day classics Groundhog Day. Incidentally, this iconic silver-screen gem has made a comeback in recent years as a dazzling Broadway musical attended on several occasions by the one-and-only king of deadpan Bill Murray, who brilliantly played the film version’s lead.
Speaking of which, this movie opens with Phil Connors (Bill Murray), a jaded pessimistic weatherman finishing up his newscast before reluctantly travelling with his film crew (producer/love interest Rita played by Andie MacDowell and cameraman Larry played by Chris Elliott) to small town Punxsutawney for the 4th year running to report on the annual Groundhog Day festivities. Phil scoffingly perceives the soft media piece as a meaningless story of a town’s obsession with a rodent (also named Phil) and his shadow (any sight of which equals 6 more weeks of winter – yikes). The news crew overnights in the sleepy town to get a quick jump on the early morning fluff story, but then wraps abruptly on the woodchuck silhouette narrative so Phil can get back to the big city asap. On the journey home an unexpected snowstorm hits and the crew is turned around with the threesome forced to spend another night in ‘Hicksville’. This is when the fun begins. The next morning sets off a series of déjà vu wake-ups with Phil experiencing endless repeats of February 2nd. Each day starting with a sharp 6am rousing to Sonny & Cher’s tune ‘I Got You Babe’. In short, like a broken record that won’t stop skipping, Phil finds himself perpetually living the same day over-and-over again with no reprieve in sight.
In relation to life’s meaning this fantasy comedy is packed with so many priceless take-away messages all cleverly veiled behind a backdrop of humor that is unmatched. To begin, when Phil realizes the inescapable reality of being stuck in the same reoccurring day his dominate response is to be increasingly curt, condescending, and rude. When that gets him no where he switches gears and preys on people’s weaknesses. When that doesn’t work either he becomes indifferent, and eventually suicidal, which again just plops him right back to reliving Groundhog Day. For a time he’s sorrowful but then ultimately he turns his sights on winning over female producer Rita (a woman he secretly admires but feels she’s out of his league) and strategically uses each day to gather personal information from her about her likes/dislikes. All done in an effort to artificially mold himself into the type of man he thinks Rita is worthy of having, but one he is naturally not. Initially Phil is encouraged by the limited success he achieves as Rita starts to warm up to his advances. But since all his conversions are a façade it’s not long before his methods are met with frustration. The harder he tries to win her over the more inauthentic he becomes thus creating the opposite desired effect. As a result, Rita senses he’s a fraud and becomes increasingly repulsed by him. This disenchantment finally prompts Phil to give up the ghost. As Albert Einstein stated, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Truer words have never been spoken.
Phil begins to realize that appearing one way but acting another just doesn’t cut it; learning that legitimate self-improvement is required to stop the repetitive garbage-in garbage-out cycle. Alas, after many failed attempts Phil embraces sincere shifts in behavior and comprehends that true change is the only change that matters. He accepts it’s okay to get it wrong – and lucky for him he receives endless second chances to get it right. Phil slowly learns to be a giver not a taker and discovers that charm can attract quality people into your life, but it can’t keep them there – that takes unfeigned substance! Most importantly Phil ascertains that when it comes to love, aspiring to be a better person is always worth the effort, even if the desired outcome evades you. Acclimatization vs. Transformation – disabling undesirable individual attributes requires a genuine mindset makeover. People can alter their dominate negative responses by training the brain to engage in positive thinking/behaviors as mental reboots are the only bona-fide route to personal reconstructive adjustment. As the old adage goes, ‘change your thoughts and you change your life’. Doing so, may just lead to the highest reward of all – actually being a good person. Amen. This movie reminds us that achieving one’s best self means transforming without a hidden agenda since life-altering transition involves more than just superficial modifications. But the process needs to start with caring about others over oneself even when such noble deeds go unappreciated and unrecognized. When people engage in random acts of kindness with virtuous intentions and without expectations good things tend to follow. This is what life is all about. As my favorite genius so eloquently stated, ‘only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.’- Albert Einstein. It’s never too late to reach your full potential and this in my opinion is the ultimate life lesson highlighted in this movie.
While we are all living through our own form of never-ending Groundhog Days (I have named Quarantine Days) perhaps we too can use our time effectively to change some of our own undesirable behaviors or learn new skills that otherwise might never have been on our agendas. As nicely emphasized in this movie, all that matters in the end is kindness and it’s contagious (which is a good thing in this case); and always a magnanimous aim. Let’s hope we all wake up soon from our very long Covid-19 slumber with 6:01am on the clock radio (digits = lucky #7) wiser for the valuable humanitarian lessons we learned via our collective caring and self-isolation sacrifices but instead now forever chanting to our fellow-man ‘I Got You Babe’. What a silver lining that would be given concern for others will be the only philosophy that gets us through this persisting plague. Bless.
PS. I traveled to the charming town of Brodheadsville Pennsylvania shortly after 9-11 located just a few hours away from the very quaint famed town of Punxsutawney – where groundhog Phil is known to dwell. I was there visiting the brilliant Dr. Frank Romascavage (one of Owen’s favorite people – and in my opinion the only appointed MD in the biz worth his salt) and his lovely family. We had a wonderful stay, which included a limo drive with Doc to Boston Mass for my graduate-studies interview at Harvard University. Fantastic memories with fabulous friends.