I love the movie Groundhog Day. For the longest time, I simply viewed it as a Bill Murray classic, but as I’ve watched and re-watched it, I’ve discovered that it is filled with meaning.
The gist: Phil Connors (Murray) is a television weatherman sent yearly to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to participate in their annual Groundhog Day festivities. An unexpected storm comes in and Phil and his news crew are forced to stay overnight, and by stay overnight, Phil is forced to relive Groundhog Day over and over and over and (you get the picture). Throughout the course of the film, Phil is on an existential journey and is forced to deal with real questions about meaning, purpose, relationships, joy and pleasure.
Tuesday night, I again watched a portion of the film- just about 30 minutes of it. It was towards the end, when Phil was elaborately constructing his day- asking questions and memorizing answers in the attempt to manipulate the perfect day so that he might escape. With the passing of every “day” and as each day got longer and longer, Phil had more to fake and orchestrate in order to get to the next point.
There’s a scene where Phil and Rita make a snowman and are “attacked” by kids throwing snowballs, as they fight back, Phil and Rita fall to the ground and they kiss. Like the other “days” that day also fails and Phil again finds himself back at that same moment- building the snowman and again falling with Rita but this time, it’s canned and Phil is clearly setting the moment up. Rita (and we) notice. Phil becomes more and more frantic, completely anxiety-ridden as he seeks “the perfect day” so that he might escape the mess that he has both found himself in and created.
As I lay in bed that night, I realized that I am often like Phil Connors:
- I spend time trying to orchestrate my relationship with God and others. I think, “If I can just do ‘a’, ‘b’, and ‘c’, then ‘d’ will happen.
- I frequently move from thing to experience and back again as I try to make sense of what is happening around me.
- As things don’t go my way, as they don’t go the way I think they ought to, my anxiety simply rises and I become frantic, unreasonable, and unrealistic. My expectation set goes out of control.
According to the article that I linked to at the beginning, we see Phil endure just 34 days, but the original script had him enduring 10,000 years worth of Groundhog Days.
Spoiler Alert: Phil eventually comes to the end of himself, and it is in this end that he finds both meaning and redemption.
While I can manipulate people (and try to manipulate God), I cannot orchestrate true and godly meaning from false relationships with man or God.
While I can find temporary meaning in things and experiences, I will eventually be let down by them.
While I can be frantic and anxious, Jesus says, “Peace. Be Still.”
In the same way, it is only by coming to the end of myself, what Jesus calls, “death to self”, that I find meaning and redemption.
Paradoxically, this death leads to life. May I die, and soon.
Here’s my original “Gospel According to Groundhog Day” post.