I love Groundhog Day.
I’ve been watching it every year on FEB 2 for about 12 years now. Not unlike the gathering in Punxsutawney each winter to get a mid-season weather forecast from a rodent, I too have a ritual: dusting off that DVD and sitting down with a glass of wine to watch Phil Connors go through his time loop hell. It’s a rite of passage, and a reminder that Spring is coming. Better days are ahead.
On the surface, the movie is really just a silly bit of Hollywood rom-com fluff. It’s the tale of a man who inexplicably starts reliving the same day over and over, and whose response to this crisis carries him on his journey from selfish boor to enlightened, well-rounded humanitarian, whereupon his time loop stops and he gets to go on with his life, changed for the better. But this movie has more to it underneath. At one point, Phil goes to drown his sorrows at a bar and idly chats with a couple of the patrons.
“What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?” he asks.
And one of the guys next to him nods, “That about sums it up for me.” And therein lies the metaphor.
Because below the surface, Groundhog Day is a meditation on life as we tend to live it. You can live with blinders on, go to work, come home, make dinner, go to sleep, get up, do it all again. It starts to feel a lot like you’re living the same day over and over again. “That about sums it up for me.”
As Phil Connors shows throughout the movie, there are several responses you can have to this dilemma. You can deny it. Fight it. You can become depressed, even suicidal. You can focus on your own selfish aims. Or, you can use the time you have the best way you can, to better yourself and the world around you.
For the past 11 months, the coronavirus pandemic has really done a number on us all. We are living the same day over and over, maybe more now than ever before. Front line workers live an increasingly harsh and heartbreaking reality as more sick and dying pour in each day. Essential workers – who we treat as anything but essential most of the time – keep gamely trudging to work, risking themselves and their loved ones because The Work Must Be Done. Students are in less-than-ideal situations, forcing themselves to focus in the face of the global catastrophe, and those of us lucky enough to work remotely are left to balance the often conflicting demands of work, homeschooling, and family, one job bleeding into the next without ceasing. It hasn’t been a picnic for anyone, and yes, it feels a lot like Groundhog Day.
You could be forgiven for being a little envious of Phil at the end of the movie when he finally breaks his cycle, because we are still stuck in ours. The question the movie asks is how we will respond.
But the movie also offers another takeaway, beyond the predictable Hollywood Protagonist’s Epiphany to Try to Be a Better Person. Late in the movie, there’s this sweet moment where Phil has lovingly sculpted his beloved Rita’s face in snow to show her how he sees her. She is touched, and says she doesn’t know what to say.
“I do,” he answers. “Whatever happens tomorrow, or for the rest of my life, I’m happy now…”
I think that’s it. Sure. Strive to be better. Appreciate what you have over what you want. But also, when you’re happy? You find a little scrap of happiness in all the challenges? Own it. Whatever may happen tomorrow, be happy now. At least let yourself have that.
And remember, it’s Groundhog Day. Spring is coming. Better days are ahead.