Groundhog Day (Day Two)

Click to Listen to the Show (24 MB MP3)

Two girls pretending to be groundhogs?

I liked this picture too much not to put it up. Plus it was tagged “groundhog.” (Perhaps they’re in a huge be-your-own-groundhog playland?) [casa-robertson / Flickr]

It’s Groundhog Day… again. (Again.)

In the spirit of Groundhog Day — or maybe it’s proof of our faith in the beautiful notion of perennial, incremental betterment — we’ve decided to do this whole thing one more time. Think of it as a repeat of our first annual special.

In case you don’t remember last year’s show, it sounded a bit like the setup of a joke: a screenwriter, a scarily knowledgeable fan, a rabbi, a buddhist, and the author of The Bell Curve walk into a radio show. This year, we promise a fan at least as knowledgeable (who has seen the movie upwards of 400 times), director Harold Ramis, and hopefully a surprise or two. (And by that I mean that we’ll be just as surprised as you.)

In the meantime here’s a homework assignment in that Groundhog Day spirit of self-improvement through repetition: What did we miss the first time around?

Update, 1/31 3:30pm

“Perhaps they’re in a huge be-your-own-groundhog playland?” I asked in the caption to the picture, and it turns out they were. We got an e-mail from the photographer, David Robinson, last night:

This photo was taken at the Houston Zoo in the winter of 2003. The students were in Mrs. Smith’s pre-kindergarten class. We were on field trip that day. The Children’s Zoo has an area where they have a groundhog colony and the kids can crawl through a little tunnel to stand up in the midst of the groundhogs. They had a blast, as you can see.

David Robinson, in an e-mail to Open Source, January 30, 2007

Who wouldn’t?

Update, 1/31 3:31pm

Here’s some Emerson fuel for your Groundhog fires:

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (but from where we can’t figure out)

It turns out that one of Greta’s friends taped this quote to her bathroom mirror so she could see it every morning. As a bit of thought experiment, can we suppose that the kindly B&B owner had done this in Phil Connors’s little sink mirror? Does it then become a cruel, 3×5 form of torture or a path to enlightenment? (Or, if you want to be weaselly, both?)

Update, 2/1 12:37pm

Perhaps it was too good to be true. We got another e-mail about the photo above:

Upon further reflection, I realized that the Groundhogs photo was inappropriately named. The kids were actually in the middle of a prairie dog colony, not a groundhog colony. You’d think I would have realized that the little prairie dogs looked nothing like Phil. I’m glad we connected anyway. Happy GD!

Beth Robinson (David’s wife), in an e-mail to Open Source, January 31, 2007

Stanley Cavell

Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Harvard University

Author, Pursuits of Happiness: the Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage and Cavell on Film, among many others

Harold Ramis

Director and co-screenwriter, Groundhog Day

Director and/or screenwriter of Caddyshack, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Stripes, Ghostbusters, and Analyze This (and on and on)

Gary Shrager

Science teacher, Milton Academy Lower School

Groundhog Day fan extraordinaire

Extra Credit Reading

Tad Friend, Comedy First: How Harold Ramis’s movies have stayed funny for twenty-five years, The New Yorker, April 19, 2004: “The director Jay Roach says that the six films Murray and Ramis made together define a level of achievement he calls ‘extreme comedy.’ ‘You would watch people in the audience just lose their minds,’ he told me.”

Emmanuel Lopez, Tip#24: See ‘Groundhog Day’ over and over and over…, The Adventures of Motivatorman!, January 28, 2007: “Celebrate this coming ‘Groundhog Day’ by watching the movie. And ironically to its story, repeat viewings of this movie can reveal so many of its motivating gifts to you at different times of your life. Let it mirror the situations in your life that you feel caught in repeating over and over again. You will be reminded that no matter how bad things get that everything will truly be okay.”

LAGuy, Groundhog Day vs 100, Pajama Guy, January 10, 2007: “I said I could name 100 comedies better than Groundhog Day. He doubted it. Well, no one ever said LAGuy can’t rise to a challenge.”

Michael P. Foley, Phil’s Shadow, Touchstone, December 7, 2003: “The ground of Groundhog Day, in other words, is Catholic. And just as our secular celebration of the day unwittingly echoes a deeper truth about the Light revealed to the gentiles, so too does the movie unwittingly point the way back to that truth.”

Sir Walter Scott, My Native Land, found on About.com:

“The wretch, concentred all in self,

Living, shall forfeit fair renown,

And, doubly dying, shall go down

To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,

Unwept, unhonour’d, and unsung.”

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  • hurley

    Once again your lead-time seems a little short. Difficult for listeners to contribute, etc. This probably too late, but the Scottish writer and film critic Gilbert Adair would be a good guest. One of the better writers on film around. He wrote a laudatory review of Groundhog Day, considering it a near-masterpiece but for something I can no longer recall…Very sharp fellow…My favorite sequence in the film when Andy McDowell tells Bill Murray that she majored in 17th century French literature, and he replies, “What a waste of time!” Only to change his tune to Ronsard, I think…

    Maybe Murray himself could be tempted to participate?

  • nother

    “The groundhog is clearly the resurrected Christ, the ever-hopeful renewal of life at springtime, at a time of pagan-Christian holidays. And when I say that the groundhog is Jesus, I say that with great respect.”

    -film historian Michael Bronski

    that came from this article in the National Review where Jonah Goldberg also references the great line-

    “This is one time where television really fails to capture the true excitement of a large squirrel predicting the weather.”

    My favorite quote is

    “yeah, well, what if there is no tomorrow? there wasn’t one today!”

  • Very existential as was pointed out before although I’m thinking more of Sartre’s “No Exit.”

    Hindu also, every moment bursting out in chaos and resolving itself in a groundhog day only to be repeated grounded in the hope that chaos actually wins.

    But also cosmic: no entropy – massive entropy – less entropy – no entropy.

  • OliverCranglesParrot

    Is it reasonable to say that I’m really looking forward to this show again?

    My perceived symmetry unravels during forced periodic reviews of the photo album…creating a grander stranger symmetry. Punxsutawney Phil brings peace, harmony, and conviviality to our Brownian motion. Here, Phil is the large blue dot in this Phil Reality Simulation I surmise we manifest the Phil projection upon the grandest screen.

    This was one of my favorite ROS shows about one of my favorite movies. Top 10 for sure. I have nothing more to add (hmm, that could be taken as either self-referentially incoherent or karmically wanting/astute or smarmy self-centeredness…?) until next year. Thanks again.

  • Although Punxy Phil predicts 6 more weeks of winter, there is no way to verify it. This could have grand political implications. For example, if one predicts that a foreign country is producing weapons of mass destruction and one never verifies it, does that mean there will be fewer than 6 weeks of winter?

    And what about global warming? Does it happen in Groundhog Time?

    Also, it is said that one can only see so far back in time because the light from the primal event isn’t within eyeshot. Similarly, Phil Connors can only travel so far due to the constraints of a 24 hour Groundhog Day – traveling close to the speed of light gives him close to a single light-day radius. Does that mean beyond that distance/space, nothing exists? And where are we now on the Groundhog Day Scale? Around 10:34am?

    Wouldn’t it make sense for Phil Connors to just kill the rascally rodent? Can there be a Groundhog Day without a Groundhog? Or maybe there’s a way to modify the g-hog’s genetic makeup…

    So much to ponder, so little time…

  • I’m wondering what would have happened to Phil if for breakfast he had a bowl of fruitloops.

  • nassim

    how does the repetition in the movie compare to that portrayed in ‘waiting for godot’?

  • kt

    I’m listening in and agree with all the academic, biblical interpretations of the movie, but I think you are missing the ‘personal growth’ industry mark. I have no doubt that the writer has been through some version of these EST offshoots. The theme of these new millenia personal growth programs goes something like this: you will begin to perceive the ways you’ve been limiting yourself. You learn to recognize the attachments you’ve created which undermine your vision, your reality, your life. You develop the facility to let go of ideas and emotions which separate you from yourself and others. You face where you’ve been stuck, where you’ve been reluctant or unable to change. With this awareness you make choices and take actions that are aligned with your purest intentions. When you approach your relationships as a spiritual practice in becoming more conscious rather than looking to relationships to make you happy or to fulfill you, a powerful shift takes place. You move from being identified with your reactions, disappointments, and entitlements to developing your capacity to evenly witness whatever arises.

    As an avid personal growth workshop/program junkie for about 5 years in my 30’s, the movie is a great description of how one feels ‘stuck’ in one’s ‘stuff’. Letting go (of one’s baggage) creates a ‘New Day’ so to speak.

  • katemcshane

    This program was fun. As I was listening, I thought — I listened to the program they did last year, but I don’t think I understood it as well as I do this year. And then I laughed.

    I studied psychoanalytic and object relations theory for many years and spent about 20 years thinking in terms of Freud’s repetition compulsion, but in the last few years I’ve been more focused on concepts from Eastern philosophies. I used to think I had the worst karma — crushing karma — but after becoming homeless, EVERYTHING SEEMS SO WONDERFUL. Just having a room of my own is a great gift every day, spending time in it mornings before work, evenings after work. I still have so much to learn about these concepts, so you guys were way ahead of me in this discussion. Still, it was so nice to know there is still so much to learn!!! I’m going to get this film out of the library this week. I’ve seen it before and had NO idea. As an aside, though, I, too, find that I cannot stop looking at Bill Murray’s face in a film LOST IN TRANSLATION — I wonder if the pace of that film would have been so compelling if another actor had played his part. Thanks AGAIN.

  • jimreiff

    Groundhog Day and Thai food were required for engineers at Pyramid Corp. during the 90s.

  • For many of my friends here in California, the phrase “Groundhog Day” does now mean endless repetition rather than the traditional holiday of February 2.

    I think my favorite of the quotes so far (halfway through the program) is the cynical Phil on video tape: “Groundhog Day used to mean something in this town. They used to pull the hog out and eat it!” – I suppose it fits my own spiritual path of the Jewish New Yorker endlessly suffering even when things are good.

  • Jim Leff

    I’ve never understood why this film (one of my favorites, by the way) is deemed Buddhist.

    Buddhism doesn’t muck around so much with issues in the maya/samsara (the world of illusion in which we all live). A Buddhist wouldn’t recognize a spiritual difference between “Good Phil” and “Bad Phil,” as both remain trapped in ego mind. Buddhists don’t aim to “live life to the fullest”; they aim to transcend the delusion that their life is theirs to be lived in the first place (realization of which offers a fullness beyond mortal strivings).

    In fact, the polarity of Good Phil versus Bad Phil positively flouts Buddhism. Consider the 3rd Zen Patriarch’s “Hsin Hsin Ming” ():

    The Great Way is not difficult

    for those who have no preferences.

    When love and hate are both absent

    everything becomes clear and undisguised.

    Make the smallest distinction,

    and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.

    [etc]

  • Tom B

    Humpf. I used to think that all the ethnic holidays (Columbus Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, MLK Day) should all be consolidated into a two-day holiday called ‘Ethnic Day’. And that there might be another new holiday called ‘Really Important People Day’ to cover the birthdays of Lincoln, Washington, Jesus, etc…. Maybe we should take another step: simply add animals and have a new holiday called ‘Really Important Animals and People Day’ (aka RIAP Day). (Or even better, combine Ethnic Day and RIAP Day into something called ‘Et Cetera Day’?)

  • esselin

    The meaning of Groundhog day relates to the myth of the Flying Dutchman who was doomed to travel forever until he could prove that he was able to love. Thus Murray as we see him at the beginning of the film is the true cycnic, totally incapable of empathy and knowing only the prices of all tnings–and none of their values. Then, as he increasingly becomes aware of the endless cycle of meaningless events in which heis entrapped he struggles to escape the infinite doom..and finds it when at last he really feels the enfolding warmth of Andie Macdowell’s warmth and thus awakes to the finite real world–and by showing his ability to love be is redeemed and saved at last from his torture.

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  • nother

    I almost didn’t read what you wrote esselin, I’m sure glad as hell i did. Thank You for that beautiful post.

  • nother

    “Winter, slumbering in the open air, wears on its smiling face a dream… of spring:”

    Old Phil didn’t see his shadow Here comes spring!

  • Jim L. seems Buddhist to me because Murray incarnates again and again into the cyclical world of Samsara until he grows beyond his ego ie reachs enlightenment. But its been a while since I’ve seen the movie.

    Feb 2 is also a Celtic High Holy day Bridgit or Candlemas.

    If the sun shines bright on Candlemas Day

    The half of the winter’s not yet away.

  • Choosing a TV news reporter as the main character was also perfect if we consider the super-formulistic way news is constructed. As a once daily market-watch columnist I know told me, the job was endless drudgery.

  • Jim Leff

    Peggysue, the Buddhist notion of ego is different from the Western. Phil lost his ego in the Western sense (he developed empathy and became less of a self-centered jerk), but ego in the Eastern sense means the notion of oneself as a separate entity in the universe. Ego is the notion of “you”; i.e. your sense of individuality and identity. Here’s a tidy definition: ego is all that hasn’t 100% fully “let go and let God”. And the film didn’t touch on that (nor did it need to for it to be a superb movie!).

    Yes, Buddhists talk a lot about compassion, and Phil learned compassion…but the mystical path isn’t about becoming more compassionate and loving, it’s about dropping the delusion of separateness and control. As the delusion lifts, one does naturally become more compassionate and loving (because those qualities are blocked by our misapprehensions about ourselves and the universe), but that’s side-effect.

    There was some heart opening for sure (equal parts Grinchian and Buddhist, I’d say). And there’s plenty of insight to inspire us in our daily lives. And “Good Phil” may be better positioned than “Bad Phil” to look more deeply under his hood, by virtue of the grace he experienced. But Phil needs to start surrendering his attachments (the graspings of ego) to get anywhere near the Buddhist realm.

    I do see how the myriad go-rounds symbolize reincarnation: keep doing it till you get it right – and eventually be released from the drudging cycle. But the thing is, Phil’s got another 10,000 rounds to go. Needing Rita to love him in order for him to feel complete is just more attachment. He’s still stuck…he’s just a nicer stuck person.

    The cruelty of Groundhog Day from the Buddhist perspective is that the one-day window is insufficient for Phil to experience the futility of attachment to the impermanent. If the movie were truly Buddhist, the final scene would have marked the first day of a new loop, this one lasting a full year or a decade. Let him deal over and over again with Rita’s conversion to Scientology, death, etc etc, offering him perspective broad enough to illuminate the pitfalls of seeking fulfillment from the phenomenal world (sequel?).

    Harold Ramis mentioned the splendid ending of The Graduate, where the boy gets the girl and they’re set to live happily ever after…but the camera lingers an extra minute into the “er…now what?” inevitability, and the cycle is beautifully captured and encapsulated. Benjamin, too, is unenlightened, but at least he’s staring down the cosmic problem. Developing a kinder personality and finding a nice girlfriend are nice things, but they’re still about being caught up in the ups and downs of worldly impermanent samsara. In neither film has the answer been glimpsed, but we leave Benjamin and Elaine in a moment far more hopeful of Buddhist realization than Phil and Rita.

  • nother

    esseln wrote- “and by showing his ability to love be is redeemed and saved at last from his torture.”

    What I would add to that great comment is that Phil finds contentment before he breaks out of the cycle. They make love and he fully expects to wake up alone again. He understands that they will have to fall in love all over again the next day.

    It’s in the renewal of that love where Phil finds happiness. Waking up each day to fall in love, all over again – that’s a good day.

    Most of us decide we’ve fallen in love with a person like it was a designated step in a relationship, we then leave it behind and move on to the next steps of companionship. The beautiful lesson that “Groundhog Day” teaches me is to cultivate a constant renewal of love – in all it’s forms.

  • nother

    Thank you Jim Leff for laying that out. I hear people all the time describe things as Buddhist and I just respond, uhh huh, sounds good to me. I’ve learned more from you and Peggysue than I ever knew before – which means I will keep learning. I’m going to reread your post again (no puns intended) so I can think more about those ideas.

    I will say though that my perspective differs on one point in particular, your sentence-

    “Needing Rita to love him in order for him to feel complete is just more attachment.”

    My perspective is that he needed to love Rita more than he needed to be loved. You might respond that it’s a moot point; he’s still clouded by his ego.

    I can see where I have to contemplate this more, but something tells me deep down that our different perspectives on that sentence means a lot.

  • Jim L.

    Thanks for your thought provoking post.

    I need to see the Groundhog’s Day movie again and now that you mention it I’d like to see The Graduate again, another great movie. I had to go look up bodichitta so I thank you for getting me to do that. It seems like we are comparing the difference between relative bodichitta (“The bodhisattva who practices this way gradualy eliminates every self cherishing attitute and cultivates a state of mind truly oriented toward others”) and ultimate bodichitta (“our conceptual versions of things have no actual reality”). So, maybe instead of saying Phil gets enlightened I should just say he gets a clue. (I refer to Reginald Ray’s Indestructible Truth: Living Spirituality of Tibetan Buddhism for my definition of bodichitta).

    For most of us westerners Buddhist notions of loving-kindness and compassion are much easier to grasp than the Buddhist notion of emptiness. So while Phil may have many lives to go…. like a kalapinka bird dropping mustard seeds into the grand canyon one at a time… in a movie that might get pretty tedious. We’d rather watch him get the girl! Yet, that is a good point about taking the end of the movie just a little further… what song will the clock radio play next?

  • Jim Leff

    Hi, Nother

    Thanks for your reply!

    “My perspective is that he needed to love Rita more than he needed to be loved. You might respond that it’s a moot point; he’s still clouded by his ego.”

    I agree on both counts: 1. Phil needed to love more than be loved (I expressed it poorly), and 2. yup, it’s a moot point, as he’s still clouded by his ego! 🙂

    Not to devalue love. Whether it manifests at any given moment in a specific/local way or more universal/cosmic way, love is the fundament of the universe, so Phil’s on his way. Some rays of light are peaking through what was previously overcast. But that’s not even a Buddhist appetizer. An hors d’oeuvre at best!

    Peggysue, Groundhog Day and The Graduate are my two favorite movies! (While I’m inclined to like the former better, I agree with Ramis’ self-criticism that the “get the girl” happy ending was a bit of a cop-out…especially in comparison to the Graduate, whose happy ending was so sublimely – and subtly! – subverted to serve creative purpose). As for Phil getting a clue, yep, I’m with you. Opening up to what is is a gradual process. But, again, that’s no more than a Buddhist hors d’oeuvre….in a fantastic movie.

    You might want to be a little cautious about using the Tibetan stuff as a yardstick on Buddhism in general. It’s a unique, idiosyncratic tradition, equal parts Tantra and Buddhism, developed for centuries in isolation. While it’s beautiful, it’s real distinct from other flavors of Buddhism.

    As for the next song on the clock radio, that’s easy! Marlene Dietrich singing “Is That All There Is?”!

  • nother
  • nother

    whoops

  • OliverCranglesParrot
  • Jim Leff

    “Is there a book I could read to get a some general buddhist insight on “ego?””

    ——-

    The problem is that someone once labeled this stuff “Eastern Philosophy”. And so, for several decades now, philosophically inclined people have written and read lots of books and accrued plenty of “knowledge”. Lots of people out there can explain, with great superiority, all about the trap of ego!

    (Awareness of pride leads to pride of awareness).

    T’ain’t philosophy. It’s religion…the best kind of religion, in that it allows you to experience it all for yourself (rather than “take on faith”). Yes, you can use your ego to read stuff written by other people’s egos on the non-existence of ego (thus stoking your ego), or you can avoid the trap of feeding your mind with the philosophy of no-mind…and simply meditate. And then you’ll see it for yourself.

    I’d prefer not to proselytize meditation methods here (man, we’re off topic enough at this point!), but if anyone wants to email me at big-dog (at) chowhound.com I’ll be happy to point you to a real good one.

  • Jim,

    I think you are right about Tibetan Buddhism being its own brand. Earlier in my life I was more drawn to Zen Buddhism and took my first meditation class from a Zen monk. But here where I live (on a small Island) there is a wonderful Tibetan Buddhist center. After years of attending different retreats and teachings (not always but mostly in the Tibetan Tradition) I took refuge with a Tibetan Lama in 2002. The more I learn the more I love it though I still feel I am just scratching the surface. At first I tried to separate the “practice” from the “culture” (probably my Protestant upbring wanting to clear away all that “fancy stuff”) but I’m drinking the Kool-Aid now (hence my perspective).

  • nother

    Thank’s Jim, thank’s peggysue. Meditation has always intrigued me.

  • OliverCranglesParrot

    Proposal for next year’s groundhog day show: Live broadcast from Punxsutawney. Here’s a site: http://www.groundhog.org/