As with all movies on this website, our goal is not to provide a complete synopsis of the film, but rather to document how the movie relates to the meaning of life. With that said, be forewarned, there are still spoilers ahead.
What can the movie Groundhog Day teach us about the meaning of life? To be fair, the movie never mentions the phrase—rather it shows us through living the answer to the question.
In the book, Movies and the Meaning of Life, Dr. Kimberly Blessing highlights Nietzsche's philosophy of eternal return. In Nietzsche's book, The Gay Science, he talks about a demon that tells a man that the life he now lives, he will live over and over again for all eternity—nothing new, nothing different. All the pains, joys, and sorrows to be repeated ad infinitum. The point being, you better live a life worth living, you better make the most of every moment. Many others have also related Groundhog Day to the philosophy of eternal return.
Phil, a weatherman living a life he doesn't necessarily like, being someone he doesn't necessarily want to be, living day to day, bored, and hoping to one day move on to bigger and better things—like a larger TV station, gets a sample of Nietzsche's demon. Phil gets to live Groundhog Day, over and over again in the "backwater" Pennsylvania polka dancing city of Punxsutawney. Because if you are reliving the same day again and again, you'd want to do the Pennsylvania polka each and every one of those days.
How long does Phil have to live the same day over, well, according to Ramis who initially said about 10 years, he revised the answer to 30-40 years. That's only about 14,610 days....
Day one, Phil lives his life as he would live any other day, despising his current situation, believing only that leaving his current job will make him happier, and being a bit of a jerk to just about everyone he encounters. Reliving the same day again and again is a reflection of how Phil lives life currently. He gets up, goes to work, hates himself, hates others, hates life and world, goes home, goes to sleep and repeats. He believes only the future will bring about fulfillment. Phil is the living embodiment of the Nine Inch Nails song, Everyday is Exactly the Same. However, instead of waking up to this song everyday, Phil wakes up to the upbeat song, I Got You Babe, by Sonny and Cher. Ironically, Phil believed this would be his last Groundhog Day before he joined that larger TV station he so earnestly yearned to join. Little does he know, by the end of the story, he would find himself moving to Punxsutawney permanently.
Phil would go on to ask one of the local "hicks," What would you do if everything you did was the same and nothing you did mattered? One of the individuals responds, That about sums it up for me; another person, Some guys would look at this glass and see it as half full. Others would see it as half empty. Phil clearly sees the glass as half empty.
By the end of the film, Phil would no longer view the local inhabitants of Punxsutawney as hicks. But that only comes after he painstakingly got to know each and every one of them. At first, Phil, not knowing what to do seeks to use those around him for his self interest—he lives hedonistically. He sleeps with women, robs banks, eats gluttonously, causes trouble, and lives meaninglessly. Phil realizes and would go on to ask,What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and every day was exactly the same, and nothing you did mattered? Phil would feel like this, at least until he starts to get to know Rita better. But even here, initially he is motivated mostly by the desire to sleep with Rita, rather than a genuine interest in getting to know her; and getting to know her gave him some purpose for some time, but even this would not end the cycle.
Eventually, he gets to know Rita on a deeper level—learns that she likes French poetry, certain types of ice cream, etc. In one conversation he asks her, So, what do you want out of life, anyway?, she responds, I guess I want what everybody wants. You know: career, love, marriage, children. Rita, in turn, asks Phil the same question and Phil answers, someone like you.
Despite all the time and effort Phil puts into getting to know Rita, learning French just to court her, he fails miserably. Days with her that were initially fun, become awkward, as would any day that you got to relive and attempted to make perfect. Imagine a day where everything was going right, but then at the end you blow it by saying something stupid. Now imagine trying to go through all the motions of that day again just to get back to that moment to change it. The first time through, the emotions, the feelings, the excitement of being in the moment and not knowing what would happen next is real. The second time ... hundredth time ... not so much.
Yet, we see a transition in Phil's character. He stops doing things to impress Rita. He starts helping others and learning things he always wanted to learn—like playing the piano and ice sculpting. Until finally, he is living a life that has both value and meaning to him, and Rita finally falls for him, breaking the spell, allowing him to move to the next day. Here it is important to note that Rita only starts fall for him when he stops trying to use every moment as an opportunity to court her.
Interestingly, the further down the rabbit hole one dares to venture, the wilder the philosophical theories about the movie get. Some relate the film to Buddhism, especially the concept of Samsara, the cycle of continuing rebirth and suffering. Clearly this idea is seen in the film as Phil gets to a point where for an extended period of time tries to kill himself in various ways every day. Others say Punxsutawney Phil is Jesus reincarnated, still more—Judaism—existentialism—absurdism ... and yet, in the end, that little rodent, Punxsutawney Phil, is probably just Satan himself, the most prominent demon of them all. Then again, as per Wikipedia, It is claimed that this one groundhog has lived to make weather prognostications since 1886, sustained by drinks of "groundhog punch" or "elixir of life" administered at the annual Groundhog Picnic in the fall. The lifespan of a groundhog in the wild is roughly six years.
This is perhaps why the movie was so well received. That is, we can all relate to the story and we can all see ourselves, our belief systems in the film. The firm has even inspired books, e.g., The Magic of Groundhog Day: Transform Your Life Day by Day.
There are a thousand (or probably more) articles out there on the film, many of which dive into their own unique theories. In reality, the movie is just a good old-fashioned romantic comedy, that just so happens to tell a story about finding what is important in life, what makes life meaningful; and what makes life meaningful is not that promotion, moving to a bigger city, sex, etc.; it's about living in each moment, making a difference in the lives of others, making the best of what you have, and fulfilling a few of your dreams along the way. A bit of love helps as well. Towards the end, Phil would say on camera to the people:
When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. But standing here among the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn't imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter.
Overall - 9
Meaning of Life Relevance - 6
Uniqueness – 7
If you saw the film, what did you think? What did we miss? This also wasn't the first time Bill Murray has appeared in this blog. Check out our article on Lost in Translation.