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Groundhog Day and the Meaning of Life

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If you had only one day to live, would you do it with debauchery, despair, or dignity? Bill Murray grasps them all in Groundhog Day.

I initially disdained seeing another Bill Murray movie because I've never cared for his recurring smug, self-centered characters. This may be Murray's best role, however, for he transforms his usual character into a well-rounded compassionate human being.

The film's intriguing plot hooked me to see it. Trapped in a mysterious daily time loop, Murray's weatherman character, Phil, must repeatedly relive February 2 in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, as deja vu to the nth degree.

Phil soon finds his actions have no lasting consequences because the cosmic clock resets every 24 hours. He begins indulging in hedonistic pleasures, but eventually that proves unfulfilling. In despair he commits suicide--multiple times--but repeatedly wakes up at 6 a.m. on February 2. Only when he turns toward noble pursuits and the helping of the people around him with his localized omniscience does he attain happiness and release from that daily karmic rebirth.

Harold Ramis, who co-starred with Murray in Ghostbusters, directs Murray in a self-satirical character study. Since seeing a new Bill Murray movie is often like a bad case of deja vu, here Murray's character sees his own life over and over again until he finally works out his own salvation.

Beneath this comedy's glib surface is a philosophical quest. Hedonism and nihilism are ultimately rejected. An existential self-sacrificial carpe diem finally brings meaning and liberation into his trapped life.

Copyright 1993 Mark D. Stucky.
Published originally in Integra, April 1993.

 

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