I watched Groundhog day for the first time this afternoon. I’d like to bring out the lessons Phil Conners, the antagonist turned protagonist, learns during his time reliving the same day for 30 plus years.
Phil, a weather presenter with a cup half empty outlook, wakes up at 6am everyday to find it’s always the same day. The people he meets greet him in the same way, the same events unfold throughout the day, and upon waking at 6am the following morning, the cycle repeats itself. Only Phil has any recollections of yesterday.
The film’s concept is a social scientists’ dream. Think of Phil as the Subject; frustrated, confused and fed-up with reliving the same day over and over. He craves change, and love, and goes to any measure to break the monotony, taking his life several times only to wake at 6am the following morning. Phil then goes from Subject to Researcher; he experiments in the peculiar world he himself in. He learns about the people around him – who are they and how do they see the world? People and events are independent variables and he can affect them. Phil plays out the personality ethic; ordering an esoteric drink he knows Rita, the women he adores, has a taste for to frame himself favourably despite not liking the drink himself. He tries endlessly to craft the perfect day according to the preferences of the people he values, and that day never comes. Finally we see Phil work on his character.
When asked what she values in a man, Rita responds character; to be humble, kind, strong, intelligent, romantic, courageous, as well as other things. Phil dips his toes into the unfamiliar waters of virtue. Having lived the same day over and over, Phil is acutely aware of the problems people about him experience; from flat tires to homelessness. He tries to help; he’s there at the right time and right place with the right tools and the right skills. He can fix a broken tire but can’t prevent life’s inevitabilities including the death of the homeless man. Phil reads, he’s in a cafe, he looks around, and he smiles to himself while appreciating the moment. He sets aside time everyday to learn. His actions become habits and the habits form his character. When Rita asks Phil about going for a coffee, Phil says he’d love to but he’s got some errands to run first. Though there’s no permanent change outside, the inner change he experiences day to day is enough for a meaningful life; indeed he turned a life which once was unbearable into a life worth living through becoming a better person a little everyday.
When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves – Viktor E. Frankl,
To everyone else Phil is miraculous, but Phil’s been working on himself for decades. The day comes where upon waking at 6am, his day is different; he wakes up next to Rita. He achieves moksha, breaking free from the perpetual cycle, his own samsara.