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Groundhog Day 1


Morality & tragicomedy

Our protagonist, Phil, is a weatherman whose TV station sends him to cover the Groundhog Day celebration in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, for the fourth year running. He is disappointed, annoyed. February 2 may or may not be the end of the winter, depending on whether it is sunny or cloudy when the groundhog emerges. It is a bad sign if it sees its shadow. Phil’s own prediction is wrong & he is stuck in Punxsutawney because of a blizzard.

This day repeats itself unceasingly thereafter. The same actors go through the same actions in a self-sufficient city, isolated by harsh winter. Phil is painfully aware of this isolation. The people, however, are blissfully ignorant. He resents their parochial way of life: He has ambition. In the end, he decides to live in Punxsutawney with Rita. This is fortunate: He ends up knowing everything about the city. The plot, therefore, aims to reconcile Phil to the city, no easy thing.

This Nietzschean threat, the eternal return of the same, terrifies Phil. The strange situation & his reaction should teach him how conventional he really is. This is basic comedic literalism at work. Thus Phil: What would you do if you were stuck in one place & every day was exactly the same, & nothing that you did mattered? Hick answers: That about sums it up for me. The problem Nietzsche raises can be rephrased this way: do my actions matter because they affect things or because they are mine? The first possibility turns on success, the latter on self-love.

A god is what Phil thinks he is when he figures out his newfound immortality. He does not think he is God Almighty, but he suspects that what Christians mean is that God has been around for so long that he uses tricks: He just knows everything. His awareness of his limited power suggests that what he means is that gods do not fear death.

Knowledge is power, Phil concludes, & begins to learn everything he can about the town. From his point of view, he is trying to predict the past. His successes & failures make up the action of the plot but an argument gradually emerges from the action: This knowledge is not self-knowledge. Phil, it emerges, is a slave to his hopes & fears.

The comedic conceit makes his purposelessness appear ridiculous. Conventional constraints are removed from him whom punishment cannot deter. This blurs the difference between rational & accidental. So what does he know when he knows everything? We find the spectacle of the lawless man uproarious. However, he might come to think life is a perpetual & restless desire for power after power, that ceaseth only in death.

Funniest movie featuring Bill Murray. See it.