I’m a little late to the game, but I watched Groundhog Day for the first time today. I’m in one of those classes where you watch movies instead of doing homework. I don’t know if you’re into that, but personally I really enjoy the teaching style.
If you aren’t familiar with the plot of Groundhog Day, let me fill you in.
*Warning: major spoilers ahead.*
The main character, Phil (played by the one and only Bill Murray), is an arrogant, egocentric weatherman who’s been assigned to cover the infamous holiday, Groundhog Day, in Puxsutawney, Pennsylvania. To say he’s reluctant about his task is an understatement. He’d rather be anywhere else than in the rinky-dink town of Puxsutawney with all of its rinky-dink people (“hicks” as he refers to them).
He’s accompanied by two people: his news producer, Rita (Annie McDowell), and cameraman, Larry (Chris Elliott). It’s his fourth year covering this holiday and it’s no secret he doesn’t want to be there.
To his dismay, he wakes up at his hotel and comes to realize he’s reliving the same day over and over again, to no foreseeable end. He’s absolutely shocked, as any normal human being would be.
Once he comes out of shock, he starts to live as if there’s no tomorrow, because…well there actually is no tomorrow. He starts to live lavishly. Plunging into a life of hedonism, he denies himself no pleasure. He robs a bank truck, eats all the food he wants, smokes all he wants, and gives himself over to all he sees fit. He even uses his growing knowledge of daily events to figure out ways to get women into bed.
He eventually tries this in an attempt to seduce Rita, as he did the other women. However, no matter how many times he tries, he finds they’re never good enough to get her into bed. In fact, she slaps him repeatedly as every night ends.
Eventually, he grows weary and begins to despise his existence. He ends up trying to kill himself time and time again, in countless different ways, only to find that he can’t succeed.
Once this no longer works, something begins to change in him. He begins to help a homeless man. Tragically however, the homeless man ends up dying in Phil’s arms. Because of this, he vows to never let a person die in Puxsutawney as long as he’s got something to say about it. So begins a new road of Phil becoming the town hero, as he saves people’s lives left and right, as well as mastering new skills like playing the piano and ice-sculpting, in addition to consuming heavy amounts of poetry. So all the people of Puxsutawney come to love and admire him.
Because of his newfound admiration from the townspeople, he eventually gains the affection of Rita. She falls in love with this new man. And as Phil lies with her in his bed, he wakes the next morning to find that she is still in the bed with him, having broken the curse, liberating him from the eternal cycle. Through it all, he was a transformed person–so much so that he tells Rita that he wants to live in Puxsutawney, the town he initially despised.
In conclusion, why am I taking all this time to explain an old movie like Groundhog Day?
Because it reminds me of a lesson that Jesus taught long ago. The lesson is two-fold.
First, as Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6, do not worry about tomorrow. Each day carries with it its own trouble and it doesn’t do us a lick of good to stress over something that does not exist, just as tomorrow didn’t exist for Phil. Despite how cliche it sounds, it is undeniably true that we are not promised tomorrow. Therefore, we must live each day in light of such a reality. All we have is today. All we have is right now.
Perhaps, we should learn from Phil’s mistakes. Hedonism won’t do the trick. Jesus calls us to something higher.
Jesus reminds us of the real answer: Love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39). Though the movie did not communicate the former, it is important to realize that true love for our neighbors comes from receiving and understanding what it means to first love God above all things.
As Jesus reminds us, it is in forgetting one’s self that we find true life. It was in loving, serving, and saving the lives of others that Phil found a reason to live. Funny thing is, Jesus was preaching this message long before Groundhog Day came around.
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)
It was in denying himself that Phil found life. Love broke his curse. Love transformed him into a new person.
Jesus is calling us to the same life; a life of meaning, hope, and authentic love. He doesn’t say it will be easy, but he promises it’s worth it. So what are we waiting for?
Pick up your cross today and love someone. Tomorrow might not come.
Thanks for the reminder, Bill Murray.