Each year on February 2 our family watches the movie Groundhog Day.
This year because of the Super Bowl, and because we’re from Missouri (Huzzah, Chiefs!), we made due with the Groundhog Day commercial and decided to catch up with Phil, Rita, and Larry later on in the week.
And that’s what we did last night.
My husband and I saw the movie years ago when it first came out. I remember thinking it was cute and funny. Then four or five years ago we thought our son (who loves groundhogs) was old enough to appreciate it, so we watched it that year on the appropriate day.
He loved it so much it’s become a family tradition, just like the Halloween and Christmas Peanuts specials.
Last night as the action began to unfold, I was struck by how fresh the movie still is for me. Groundhog Day — a romantic comedy fantasy — reflects real life.
Have you seen this meme?
There’s a lot of truth in that, and I think that’s why Groundhog Day stands the test of time.
(If you’ve never seen the movie–fair warning–major spoilers ahead!)
Sure there’s exaggeration as Phil lives through the same day over and over and over again. By some estimates, he lived Groundhog Day more than 12,000 times, so around 34 years worth.
But here’s the thing — if you’ve been an adult for any amount of time, living on your own, responsible for yourself — you realize that there’s a certain amount of sameness to daily life.
- What shall we have for dinner tonight? No, we didn’t have chili two nights ago — two nights ago was spaghetti.
- Didn’t I just wash these exact same clothes? I thought I folded these same shirts last night?
- What do you mean the car is out of gas? I spent $25 to fill up the tank just the other day.
- Do you believe in deja vu? Because it seems like I’m always stuck in traffic, stopped at this same traffic light on my way across town.
I relate to the panic Phil Connors experiences when he realizes he’s living the same day over and over again. Some days I feel the exact same way.
Unable to figure out why he’s stuck in a loop, Phil attempts all manner of things to deal with the repetitive nature of his new life. He tries to seduce women, working day after day to perfect his efforts to get Rita and Nancy into bed. When that doesn’t work, he turns to extremes like robbing armored cars, stealing the groundhog, and repeatedly killing himself. But still he wakes up at 6am each and every morning to Sonny and Cher singing “I Got You Babe.”
How many people do you know who cope with the daily grind of life in one of these ways?
Unfortunately, I know people who have partied and played too hard, trying to run away from the demons chasing them. I’ve watched friends date this, that, or the other one, not because they like or care about the other person but because they are scared to be alone.
I’ve known people who chose to end their lives by committing suicide.
The great lesson of Groundhog Day is the way Phil comes to terms with himself and his place in the universe. He does the things he can. He saves a man from choking on his steak and catches a kid falling out of a tree. But he also realizes that no matter how hard he tries, he can’t prevent an old man from dying.
After all his false starts and failures, Phil eventually changes the only thing he can change — himself. He takes piano lessons every day until he’s good enough to play with a jazz band. He learns to speak French and create complicated ice carvings. He listens to the people in Punxsutawney, reads books, and becomes part of the community.
Groundhog Day is about the transformation of an unhappy, cynical man who doesn’t like himself, to someone who understands himself, knows he’s not perfect, and shows himself empathy and compassion.
And finally, one day he gets everything exactly right…and wakes up on February 3rd.
In many ways that’s the great lesson I‘ve learn over a lifetime of my own Groundhog Days.
Each day I wake up and hope I can get everything exactly right. And even though I don’t know that I’ve ever succeeded, I’m always glad to wake up on a new day — another chance to “get it right.”