The praise herein is not for Groundhog Day (the day) and its respective traditions. The idea that a groundhog can tell whether or not winter will continue just by poking its chubby little head out of its hole is a bizarre concept alone, but once you factor in the wonky traditions like the deification of Punxsutawney Phil (the famous groundhog in Pennsylvania), the made-up language in which this groundhog communicates his prognostication and the unacknowledged overall silliness of the whole affair, things really go off the rails.
What I really want to talk about is the 1993 American cinematic masterpiece “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray. Watching this film every Feb. 2 has been a tradition of mine ever since I moved out on my own. It has become a mainstay of the late winter months for me that has provided some much needed warmth in the dreariest of grey days. But more than a mere comfort movie, it’s a beautiful, existential reminder of my own mortality.
If you haven’t seen it, stop reading and go take care of that. I’ll wait. But if you have seen it, you’ll recall the film’s plot of the main character, Phil Connors (Bill Murray), reliving Feb. 2 over and over again. Each day he awakes to the same day, forced to relive it over and over. Out of frustration, Phil eventually considers his own actions meaningless and moves towards more destructive behaviour – he ruins all of his relationships, he does things that would get him fired from his job as a reporter, he even tries to end it all – unsuccessfully, of course, as the loop he finds himself trapped in continues. As Phil grows bored of living in a world where his actions have become meaningless, he seeks out a purpose and engages with the townspeople instead and pursues his new coworker at a romantic level, using the recurring day to his advantage.
Aside from Phil’s clever use of the film’s creative plot device, “Groundhog Day” has some bigger, less on-the-nose lessons to teach. It serves as a reminder that we’ve only got one go around – that we only live and die once. It reminds us that the decisions we make have consequences and that, to some small extent, we can and should craft our lives through positive and well-intended actions. Not only does the film force us to confront our own mortality (and humanity, for that matter) it does so with a comfortable embrace.
We in North America seem to have an uncomfortable relationship with death. Mexico has the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and Japan has its Festival of the Lanterns – both celebrate the dead. But here, all we’ve really got is Halloween, which, beyond the odd ghost sheet and grim reaper costumes, lost any real connection it had to death a long time ago.
So, join me on Feb. 2 and enjoy Harold Ramis’ existential classic. Groundhog Day is on a Tuesday this year, so you’ll have to watch it after school and work. For some reason, it’s still not a national holiday.