Groundhog Day is an old, Dutch Pennsylvanian tradition which is observed every year on 2 February. A specially chosen groundhog dubbed ”Puxatawney Phil’ is used to predict whether there will be an early Spring or there will be six more weeks of winter. There is a special ceremony in the town of Puxatawney whereby this groundhog is observed as it peaks out of its hibernatory burrow. If it casts a shadow because the skies are sunny, that means there will be six more weeks of winter.
The main character, Phil, is bored with his life. He sees his work assignment – having to cover the ‘Groundhog Day’ event in Puxatawney – as beneath him and can’t wait to finish his journalistic piece and return home. The snow prevents this and, to make matters worse, he finds himself in a time warp where each day is re-enacted in the same way.
This film explores the tyranny of time. At first, Phil is frustrated with his sense of stagnation. He explores the dark side of his actions knowing that they carry no consequences beyond a 24-hour period by overeating, seeking premature intimacy with women he fancies and attempting suicide.
But, the question arises – no matter how much a drag our lives seem to be, should we not be seeking to redeem time rather than to end it? This is what Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day does with a transformational effect. It’s only when he experiences a sea-change in his attitude and starts to use his 24-hour units of time to do maximum good that his life begins to change for the better. Although he is still stuck in a time warp, his quality of life improves and in turn, he enhances the quality of life of those around him.
Most of us do not appreciate just how much latitude we possess to change our lives for the better until a life-changing event occurs which makes us value time more. Dr. Ros Taylor MBE, former Director of the Hospice of St. Francis in Hertfordshire, UK, recalls that in her more than 26 years of working in end-of-life care, she has never known any patient to take his or her life. On the contrary, what has more likely happened is that upon receiving a terminal diagnosis, their perception of time changes. All of a sudden, time, which seemed as if it would go on forever, becomes more precious because it is now viewed as a limited resource.
Phil, on the other hand, is driven to suicide because his own mind sees his time warp as an endless affliction of repeating the same day over and over again. Perhaps it would be helpful if we begin to view our lives as the terminal disease with a limited prognosis – we will not be here forever although it may often feel that way.
How can we apply this wisdom to those without a prognosis of imminent death? Each day may be viewed as a whole life in itself, at the end of which there is sleep which may be likened to death. The film ‘Groundhog Day’ explores this theme of the perception of time. The main character is trapped in a time warp whereby each day he wakes up to the same events happening over and over again. He seems destined to an eternity of frustration, but manages to break the spell after he figures out that each day gets better once his attitude towards those events changes for the better. A key change is learning to live with others in mind. He begins to reconnect with his community.
If you feel you have been condemned to repeating the same day over and over again [Covid Lockdowns are a good analogy], then you can take heart from the resolution of the film. The arc occurs when Phil begins to stamp his own unique brand of selflessness on each day, thereby rendering each day special in its own right. Before this awakening, Phil is insufferable and merely tolerates his fellow human beings whom he treats, for the most part with cynicism and contempt.
One morning, as if by magic, the spell is broken and Phil is returned to real time. This is the realm we inhabit. So what can we take away from this temporary suspension of reality? The valuable takeaway is that if we can learn to live with the things we find annoying and irksome – in Phil’s case, the repetition of his least favourite day of the year, then we will not be in the least phased by the challenges life may present us in the future.