For 16 years, Groundhog Day has been hailed as a meditation on self-redemption. But to pigeonhole it into one overarching theme would be an insult to the layered precision, and perfection, of Harold Ramis’s 1993 masterpiece, which ventures into the heart of darkness and despair to ultimately emerge unharmed, but not unmarked. This story of a man doomed to relive the same day over and over again is not concerned about tomorrow. A true absurdist triumph, it cares not what the destination might be, for it knows that the pursuit of meaning is itself meaningful whether or not that pursuit is eventually rewarded. Life might very well lack purpose, and it might very well be a struggle. But that doesn’t mean you have to be an asshole about it.
A shot of a blue sky (cotton-white clouds floating, lazily, across the screen) opens the film. Every few seconds the shot changes—yet it remains the same. The sky is blue, the clouds as pearly as before and still in their hazy dance, even though they are not the same as the ones from the previous shot. It is a visual metaphor that permeates the rest of the film. That it is intertwined with an otherworldly small town marching band track only adds to the positively Lynchian feel.
Eventually, the sky cuts to a blue screen as an outstretched palm invades the frame from the right, looking like it belongs to an illusionist—a flick of the wrist, a legerdemain, and an Ace of Spades might suddenly appear, dangling precariously from the tip of the fingers. The illusionist in this case is Phil Connors (Bill Murray, wonderfully channeling W.C. Fields), a weatherman with Channel 9 Pittsburgh, acerbic and detached from his fellow humans to the point of nervosa. In this brief moment, however, beyond Phil’s soul-devouring sarcasm, we are presented with one of the film’s central themes. That our lives as we live them are illusions—not in a New Age/Philosophy 101 sense, but in the way that we reflect into them the meaning that we want them to have. The blue screen is, in fact, Phil’s tapestry, and he is, in fact, its creator. Later in the film, Ramis makes his point even clearer in two separate scenes where Phil, incensed by a snowstorm he predicted won’t happen, and shivering uncontrollably, will declare “I MAKE THE WEATHER!” Further on, he is confronted by his Pollyanna of a producer (Andie MacDowell) on the way he is, seemingly, living his life. “I am a god,” he says, before adding, not too convincingly, “I am not THE god…I don’t think.” These are not mere character beats showing off Phil’s egocentricity. They are, instead, singular examples of absurdist existentialism (like the film, this writer is also aware of the oxymoron).
February 1st is not a good day for Phil. It is when he has to make his annual trip to Punxsutawney, PA. to report on the town’s Groundhog Day festivities; or as he puts it, “the excitement of a large squirrel predicting the weather.” His frustration grows when he finds out that he is unable to leave town due to the aforementioned snowstorm, and it is doubled the next day (or, the very same day) when he discovers, much, much to his chagrin, that he is stuck in a time loop. This is the film’s premise—one that needs not repeating. Roger Ebert put it best, as he so frequently does, when he said: “When you find yourself needing the phrase This is like “Groundhog Day” to explain how you feel, a movie has accomplished something.”
But back to that original key sequence. Look at the way it is framed. From wide open blue skies, Ramis takes us into the cramped, controlled environment of a TV studio. He keeps his shots short, he keeps them tight. During the exchange between Phil and his fellow anchorwoman, who is all too happy that Phil is going on a bitch of an assignment, the back-and-forth is dominated by the fake cityscape background behind the anchor, and the wan dullness of an office. This is the real world that Phil will come to miss.
And the transition into the world he loathes is exquisite. As Phil’s party, with his producer Rita, and abrasive cameraman Larry (Chris Elliott, in a career-defining role), takes its leave from the confines of the studio, the camera lingers on an out-of-the-way television showing that trustiest of visual metaphors, a bridge, as it zooms slowly towards it, and takes us, suddenly, into the screen itself. Now we are quite literally through the looking glass, and our ordeal will be the same as Phil’s, as a new, quite cheerful, credit sequence starts.
And it is within the confines of this make-believe world that Phil finds himself, as we all do. Phil hates the small town as a concept, and, in this case, the concept is all too real in Punxsutawney. For eternity, he is condemned to live a life of whimsy, a life of naïveté, and a life of earnestness. These are anathema to Phil as they are to any man or woman who lives in the modern city. One of the cleverest ways the film deals with the petit bourgeois compulsions of the Western city dweller (sounds like a genus and maybe that is correct) is to make the small town big. We all have been in company where someone says, possibly us, that they would just love to leave everything behind, all the trappings of the modern world, and move to a small town. Groundhog Day has the audacity to make the small town a metaphor for life, sure, but also a representation of the Christian heaven. Andie MacDowell’s character flat out says so when she declares her love not just for the town, but for the idea of the town itself. The film is not impressed. In that very scene, as Phil and Rita walk through the snow, the camera stays suspended looking down at the two pathetic figures making their ways through the snow, as if to recall that unforgettable line from The Twilight Zone: “This is the other place.”
As many have observed, in other hands, and with other actors, Groundhog Day might very well have felt like an extended Twilight Zone episode, for, in its reductive summary, the film would call for it. An allusion to, and connection with, pop culture is somewhat essential to see the true point of the film, but it is not Rod Serling that one should be immediately drawn to. Instead, it is with that perennial Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, that the film has more in common. That, in the brummagem Scrooged, Bill Murray was the star of a failed reimagining of, you know, the original It’s a Wonderful Life only helps to highlight the association.
Phil’s sempiternal misery echoes George Bailey’s, and by the end of both films, the characters, like the audience, are duped. Kenneth Von Gunden, in his 1989 book Flights of Fancy, sees through the illusion of happiness:
“Poor George has been sandbagged, this time by Clarence, for good. He has been revealed as the only glue holding the town of Bedford Falls together, and the guardian of the lives of a number of people who would otherwise be dead. George now cheerfully accepts his imprisonment. Yet despite the warm and uplifting ending, nothing has really changed. George will pinch pennies for the rest of his life, bludgeoned into accepting his lot in life as inevitable and unavoidable. Mr Potter, and others like him, will continue to oppose George and make his life difficult.”
Von Gunden’s observations on the Frank Capra classic can very easily be applied to Groundhog Day. Unlike George Bailey, Phil is not the glue that holds Punxsutawney together, but, instead, he metamorphoses into it in the process of his travails. Like George he saves at least two people from certain death and becomes the very force that holds the town together—the Ghost of Community Spirit, if you like. Like It’s A Wonderful Life, Groundhog Day tenderly weaves the concept of middle aged, middle class self-sacrifice into the narrative, highlighting, on the way, the importance of counting one’s blessings (its ending is also slightly, but ever so slightly, more upbeat than the earlier movie). As Christopher Tookey wrote in 1994, “Our hero regrets, but comes to terms with, the fact that he has had to give up his hopes of escape ... for the sake of local community.” Phil’s life might not be wonderful, but he has to go on living it pretending that it is. Just like we all do.
And it is so funny. God, it is so very, very funny. The fine moments, as in This Is Spinal Tap (another existential melodrama), have been referenced so many times, but look at the smaller ones; the ones that are much more subtle: Once again trying to win over Rita, Phil orders the one drink that she loves, and toasts, as per the previous day’s mistake, to what she usually does, world peace. “I’d like to say a prayer and drink to world peace,” he says. The scene stays as a two shot as Andie McDowell sips from her glass just as Bill Murray waits, looking into the distance, for a moment or two. After a beat, a silent “amen” escapes from his lips, before he takes his drink. All the money in my pocket to the person who can top that. All of it.
Similarly, remember the scene where, having learned of Rita’s background in French literature, Phil recites Baudelaire, bizarrely mimicking the wonderful James Lipton, only to answer to Rita’s incredulity if he can’t speak French: “Oui.” It is all in Murray’s delivery.
Bill Murray’s delivery makes a lot of things more powerful in Groundhog Dog. Phil comes to terms with the pointlessness of time just as, paradoxically, he does with his self worth when he notices, for the first time in what may very well be years, an old vagrant he passes by on the street. He buys him a meal, which turns out to be his last. The old man’s time has come, but that does not deter Phil from trying to save him, even though he fails every single time. Watch as Murray gives the best delivery of his career as a nurse tells him that “sometimes people just die.” “Not today,” he says.
This scene is crucial to Phil’s eventual transformation. Earlier, Murray goes through the various circles of grief with relative ease (has there been a more cheerful approach to modern man’s suicidal tendencies) that we forget how, in lesser hands, the part might well have foundered. In fact, imagine, if you dare, how this film would work out in today’s Hollywood cinema. There would have to be a spiritual guide of sorts, one that would give meaning to Phil’s ordeals (the film doesn’t offer an explanation to the time loop—it is an allegory, and has more in common with J.B. Priestley’s Time Plays, in particular the absurdist I Have Been Here Before than it does with Back to the Future). An ecclesiastical take would be necessary and a montage of various visits to a church, a synagogue, and a Buddhist temple mandatory (who else but Jack Black as the wacky yogi!). But Phil’s problem is not so much spiritual as it is existential, and Groundhog Day is an incredibly secular film—upon his initial discovery of his predicament, Phil, like any normal person, first goes to the doctor, and when that fails, he goes to see a psychiatrist. During none of his trials does Phil ever feel compelled to visit a holy man. The only time we ever see a church is when Phil commits suicide by jumping off the bell tower. It’s a powerful image.
Phil doesn’t have any guide but himself. He has to figure out the lesson without celestial counsel. Phil Connors is the modern-day Sisyphus, sequaciously rolling his boulder with the greatest effort, and greatest trepidation, to the very peak of the mountain, only for the gods to wish it down once again to the bottom. Groundhog Day is the only Hollywood film—hell, the only film in the history of cinema (not even Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel comes close)—to truly delve into the abyss of Camus’ absurdist nightmare (or dream, I suppose). Its closest spiritual relative is The Sopranos. Both Tony and Phil eventually understand the nature of the rut they have found themselves in—Tony has to take peyote and sleep with the girlfriend of the cousin he recently murdered—and Phil has to witness his powerlessness in the face of life. That he cannot prevent the old vagrant’s death is when Phil truly changes, and when—as an Internet critic whose name or site escapes me puts it—he finally transfers the sympathy he had towards the old man to his fellow humans. Despite his infamous assertion to the contrary, Tony Soprano never gets it. He doesn’t get that we, all of us, are Ouroboroses, stuck in our own loops, the perpetual damnation that is life. Phil comes to realize that life might, in fact, be damnation, but you have to live it as if it isn’t. Arthur Schopenhauer’s concept of eternal return is the true leitmotif, as is Albert Camus’s parable of Sisyphus:
“I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
Eventually, Groundhog Day does (Camus would have loved this film), even though he very well might not be. Phil’s last line is the profession of a desire to live in Punxsutawney, but he is cautious: “We’ll rent first.” It is a very funny line, a spiritual descendant of “Nobody’s perfect,” in that it identifies with the limitations set by the universe and life. Phil will acquiesce, but only in his own terms. But, at least, he finally gets it: For there to be shadow, there has to be light.
Ali Arikan is the author of Cerebral Mastication.
Groundhog Day is a 1993 film about a weather man doomed to repeat the same day over and over again.
- Directed by Harold Ramis. Written by Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis.
- This is one time where television really fails to capture the true excitement of a large squirrel predicting the weather.
- I was in the Virgin Islands once. I met a girl. We ate lobster, drank Piña Coladas. At sunset we made love like sea otters. That was a pretty good day. Why couldn't I get that day over and over and over?
- Once again, the eyes of the nation have turned here to this... tiny village in western Pennsylvania. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. There is no way this winter is ever going to end, as long as this groundhog keeps seeing his shadow. I don't see any other way out. He's got to be stopped. And I have to stop him.
- You want a prediction about the weather, you're asking the wrong Phil. I'll give you a winter prediction: It's gonna be cold, it's gonna be grey, and it's gonna last you for the rest of your life.
- 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.
- Sometimes I wish I had a thousand lifetimes. I don't know, Phil. Maybe it's not a curse. Just depends on how you look at it.
- [After Phil steps in a flooded pothole] Whew! Watch out for that first step. It's a doozy! [laughs]
- DJ #1: Okay, campers, rise and shine and don't forget your booties 'cause it's cold out there today!
- DJ #2: It's cold out there every day! What is this, Miami Beach?
- D.J. #1: Not hardly. And you know, you can expect hazardous travel later today with that, you know, that, uh, that blizzard thing.
- D.J. #2: That blizzard - thing. That blizzard - thing. Oh, well, here's the report! The National Weather Service is calling for a "big blizzard thing!"
- D.J. #1: Yessss, they are. But you know, there's another reason why today is especially exciting.
- D.J. #2: Especially cold!
- D.J. #1: Especially cold, okay, but the big question on everybody's lips...
- D.J. #2: On their chapped lips...
- D.J. #1: On their chapped lips, right: Do ya think Phil is gonna come out and see his shadow?
- D.J. #2: Punxsutawney Phil!
- D.J. #1: That's right, woodchuck-chuckers - it's...
- D.J. #1, D.J. #2: [in unison] GROUNDHOG DAY!
- Ned: Phil? Phil Connors? Phil Connors, I thought that was you!
- Phil: Hi, how are you doing? Thanks for watching.
- Ned: Hey, hey! Now don't you tell me you don't remember me 'cause I sure as heckfire remember you!
- Phil: Not a chance.
- Ned: Ned Ryerson! "Needlenose Ned"? "Ned the Head"? Come on, buddy, Case Western High! Ned Ryerson — I did the whistling belly-button trick at the high school talent show? Bing! Ned Ryerson — got the shingles real bad senior year, almost didn't graduate? Bing again! Ned Ryerson — I dated your sister Mary Pat a couple of times until you told me not to anymore? Well?
- Phil: Ned Ryerson?
- Ned: Bing!
- Phil: Bing! So did you turn pro with that whole belly-button thing Ned or—
- Ned: No, Phil, I sell insurance.
- Phil: What a shock!
- Phil: What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?
- Ralph: That about sums it up for me.
- Phil: What if there were no tomorrow?
- Gus: No tomorrow? That would mean there would be no consequences, there would be no hangovers. We could do whatever we wanted!
- Phil: That's true. We could do whatever we want.
- Phil: It’s the same thing your whole life. “Clean up your room! Stand up straight! Pick up your feet! Take it like a man! Don’t mix beer and wine, ever! And oh yeah, don’t drive on the railway track!”
- Gus: [sobering up] Well, Phil. That’s one I happen to agree with.
- Phil: [driving into the rail tracks] I don’t know, Gus… Sometimes, you just have to take the big chances.
- [A train approaches]
- Phil: I bet he’s going to swerve first…
- Das, Srijandeep (4 January 2017). Jurgen Klopp’s Groundhog Days – Defeating Deja Vu and the Dross. Football Paradise. Retrieved on 4 February 2018.
- Rita: I'm sorry? What was that again?
- Phil: I'm a god.
- Rita: You're God.
- Phil: I'm a god — I'm not the God, I don't think.
- Rita: Because you survived a car wreck?
- Phil: I didn't just survive a wreck; I wasn't just blown up yesterday. I have been stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted and burned.
- Rita: Oh, really?
- Phil: [nods] Every morning I wake up without a scratch on me, not a dent in the fender: I am an immortal.
- Doris: Special today is blueberry waffles—
- Rita: Why are you telling me this?
- Phil: Because I want you to believe in me.
- Rita: You're not a god. You can take my word for it; this is 12 years of Catholic school talkin'.
- Phil: How do you know I'm not a god? How do you know?
- Rita: Because it's not possible!
- Rita: There is something so familiar about this. Do you ever have déjà vu?
- Phil: Didn't you just ask me that?
- Rita: What about me, Phil? Do you know me too?
- Phil: I know all about you. You like producing, but you hope for more than Channel 9 Pittsburgh.
- Rita: Well, everyone knows that!
- Phil: You like boats, but not the ocean. You go to a lake in summer with your family up in the mountains. There's a long wooden dock and a boathouse with boards missing from the roof, and a place you used to crawl underneath to be alone. You're a sucker for French poetry and rhinestones. You're very generous. You're kind to strangers and children, and when you stand in the snow you look like an angel.
- Rita: How are you doing this?
- Phil: I told you. I wake up every day, right here, right in Punxsutawney, and it's always February 2nd, and there's nothing I can do about it.
- [Phil is carving a snow sculpture while Rita sits posing and freezing.]
- Rita: Why can't I see it?
- Phil: I just want to give you your money's worth. You paid top dollar for me.
- Rita: Well... I think you were a bargain.
- Phil: It's sweet of you to say. You're probably right.
- Phil: [talking to a sleeping Rita] I think you're the kindest, sweetest, prettiest person I've ever met in my life. I've never seen anyone that's nicer to people than you are. The first time I saw you... something happened to me. I never told you but... I knew that I wanted to hold you as hard as I could. I don't deserve someone like you. But if I ever could, I swear I would love you for the rest of my life.
- Rita: [muttering in her sleep] Did you say something?
- Phil: Good night.
- Rita: I’m amazed. And I’m not easily amazed.
- Phil: About what?
- Rita: About how you can start a day with one kind of expectation and end up so completely different.
- Phil: Well, do you like how the day is turning out?
- Rita: Very much. You couldn’t plan a day like this.
- Phil: Well, you can. It just takes an awful lot of work.
- Das, Srijandeep (4 January 2017). Jurgen Klopp’s Groundhog Days – Defeating Deja Vu and the Dross. Football Paradise. Retrieved on 4 February 2018.
- Phil: Why are you here?
- Rita: You said stay so I stayed.
- Phil: [laughs] I can't even make a collie stay. Something is... different.
- Rita: Good or bad?
- Phil: Anything different is good. Do you know what today is?
- Rita: No, what?
- Phil: Today is tomorrow. It happened.
- [Phil kisses Rita over and over, realizing that he has finally passed Groundhog Day]
- Rita: [smiling] Phil, why weren't you like this last night? You just fell asleep.
- Phil: It was the end of a VERY long day.
Quotes about Groundhog Day
- With so many movies, especially comedies, you can see the bones sticking out – you can see what they're trying to do. But Groundhog Day is such a clever, wonderful ride that you don't notice the joins. It's rare for a comedy to be funny and profound but also popular. Films such as Groundhog Day and Back to the Future sold a lot of popcorn, but they were insanely smart too. That's very inspiring when you're sitting there trying to write a comedy screenplay. Groundhog Day is living proof that it's possible to create intelligent comedy that still has a broad appeal.
- Groundhog Day is now associated in the minds of many spiritual seekers with redemption, rebirth and the process of moving to a higher plane. Professor Angela Zito, the co-director of the Centre for Religion and Media at New York University, told me that Groundhog Day illustrated the Buddhist notion of samsara, the continuing cycle of rebirth that individuals try to escape. In the older form of Buddhist belief, she said, no one can escape to nirvana unless they work hard and lead a very good life.
But in the teachings of the slightly more recently established MahayanaBuddhism, no one can escape samsara until everyone else does. "That's why you have what are called bodhisattvas who reach the brink of nirvana and come back for others," she said. "The Dalai Lama is considered one living bodhisattva, but Bill Murray could also be one."
- Groundhog Day is a film that finds its note and purpose so precisely that its genius may not be immediately noticeable. It unfolds so inevitably, is so entertaining, so apparently effortless, that you have to stand back and slap yourself before you see how good it really is.
Certainly I underrated it in my original review; I enjoyed it so easily that I was seduced into cheerful moderation. But there are a few films, and this is one of them, that burrow into our memories and become reference points. When you find yourself needing the phrase This is like "Groundhog Day" to explain how you feel, a movie has accomplished something.
- A long article in the British newspaper the Independent says "Groundhog Day" is "hailed by religious leaders as the most spiritual film of all time." Perhaps not all religious leaders have seen anything by Bergman, Bresson, Ozu and Dreyer, but never mind: They have a point, even about a film where the deepest theological observation is, "Maybe God has just been around a long time and knows everything."
What amazes me about the movie is that Murray and Ramis get away with it. They never lose their nerve. Phil undergoes his transformation but never loses his edge. He becomes a better Phil, not a different Phil. The movie doesn't get all soppy at the end. There is the dark period when he tries to kill himself, the reckless period when he crashes his car because he knows it doesn't matter, the times of despair.
We see that life is like that. Tomorrow will come, and whether or not it is always Feb. 2, all we can do about it is be the best person we know how to be. The good news is that we can learn to be better people. There is a moment when Phil tells Rita, "When you stand in the snow, you look like an angel." The point is not that he has come to love Rita. It is that he has learned to see the angel.
- Groundhog Day, the 1993 film Ramis directed and co-wrote with Danny Rubin, became an underground Buddhist classic, despite the fact that the words “Buddhist” or “Buddha” never appear in the script, or that neither Ramis nor Rubin intended it to be Buddhist or Christian or Jewish or any of the other denominations that say it speaks to them and for them. And despite the fact that the film is, after all, a comedy. A comedic take on Buddhism? That alone could earn merit points these days when many Buddhist meditators and scholars seem to have forgotten the light touch of numerous teachers over the centuries.
- Phil says, “I’ve killed myself so many times, I don’t even exist anymore.” “Now,” Ramis comments, “Phil is ready for change.”
And, typical of a Ramis film, change means Phil becomes the good guy, the bodhisattva who performs selfless acts of kindness, not manipulatively, but for their own sake. This, naturally, wins him the love of the whole town, and, naturally, of Rita. And not surprisingly, he comes to love himself.
“No matter what happens tomorrow, or for the rest of my life,” Phil tells Rita, “I’m happy now because I love you.”
Sure, it’s a Hollywood ending. But Ramis would have it no other way. In his commentary on the fifteenth anniversary DVD, he confessed: “I’m such a sap. I actually believe in this stuff. The movie is quite sincere.”
- Ramis gets a kick out of the fact that many religious groups claim the film is for and about their particular sect. I suspect Ramis and the Buddha would agree: 'The more, the merrier."
Ramis himself is not a Buddhist, does not meditate but is well read on the principles and consciously practices the simple tenets that weatherman Phil Connors comes to embody (picture a bald Bill Murray in saffron robes). Ramis, I learned from hanging out with him and interviewing many around him, is somewhere between a mensch (a really good guy) and a boddhisatva (a really good guy whose mission is to help other people become really good guys).
- I believe Groundhog Day is a Buddhist movie because of this "transformation" of the Bill Murray character. He becomes, as we would say in Jodo ShinshuBuddhism, "a true human being," as opposed to the self-centered and arrogant person he started out as. What is important to note is that the transformation occurs not through the action of some external supreme being, or through the action of the Bill Murray character himself (i.e., through his own self-power). It occurs because he encounters a difficulty in his life that is greater than himself.
In Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, we are taught that, even if we are aware that our ego-self is the problem, we cannot simply decide to become a "good person." The self cannot correct itself. What is required is a power much greater than the self, which essentially "negates" or "challenges" the self. In Buddhism, we call this power the Dharma.
- What's so remarkable about it … is that normally when you're writing a screenplay you try to avoid repetition. And that's the whole thing here, it's built on repetition. That's so bold. The way they get through it is to short-circuit everything, so just when you think something is going to happen that you've seen before, the film gets to it before you and changes or abbreviates it in some way. I saw it when it came out and it just took my breath away.
- Since its debut a decade ago, the film has become a curious favorite of religious leaders of many faiths, who all see in Groundhog Day a reflection of their own spiritual messages. … Harold Ramis, the director of the film and one of its writers, said last week that since it came out he has heard from Jesuit priests, rabbis and Buddhists, and that the letters keep coming. "At first I would get mail saying, 'Oh, you must be a Christian, because the movie so beautifully expresses Christian belief,' " Mr. Ramis said during a conversation on his mobile phone as he was walking the streets of Los Angeles. "Then rabbis started calling from all over, saying they were preaching the film as their next sermon. And the Buddhists! Well, I knew they loved it, because my mother-in-law has lived in a Buddhist meditation center for 30 years and my wife lived there for 5 years." … Angela Zito, a co-director of the Center for Religion and Media at New York University, screens the film for students in her Buddhism class. She said that Groundhog Day perfectly illustrates the Buddhist notion of samsara, the continuing cycle of rebirth that Buddhists regard as suffering that humans must try to escape …Groundhog Day, Dr. Zito said, is a cinematic version of the teachings in Mahayana Buddhism, known as "the greater vehicle."
"In Mahayana," she said, "nobody ever imagines they are going to escape samsara until everybody else does. That is why you have bodhisattvas, who reach the brink of nirvana, and stop and come back and save the rest of us. Bill Murray is the bodhisattva. He is not going to abandon the world. On the contrary, he is released back into the world to save it."
- Some theologians see much less Buddhism in the story than Judaism. Dr. Niles Goldstein… said he finds Jewish resonance in the fact that Mr. Murray's character is rewarded by being returned to earth to perform more mitzvahs — good deeds — rather than gaining a place in heaven, which is the Christian reward, or achieving nirvana, the Buddhist reward. He has not used the movie as an allegory for his congregation, he said, but he might now.
"The movie tells us, as Judaism does, that the work doesn't end until the world has been perfected," Rabbi Goldstein said.
- Alex Kuczynski, in "Groundhog Almighty" in The New York Times (7 December 2003)
- Michael Bronski, a film critic for The Forward who teaches a course in Jewish film history at Dartmouth, said he sees strong elements of not only Jewish but also Christian theology. "The groundhog is clearly the resurrected Christ, the ever hopeful renewal of life at springtime, at a time of pagan-Christian holidays," he said, adding: "And when I say that the groundhog is Jesus, I say that with great respect."… Yogis, Jesuits and psychoanalytic practitioners have told Mr. Ramis that they feel a strong spiritual kinship with the message they see in the film. In the case of the psychoanalysts, he said, "it's the 'we keep reliving the same old patterns over and over again until we gain the right to free ourselves' thing."
And in Washington, a branch of the Chinese spiritual movement Falun Dafa, also known as Falun Gong, has used the movie to instruct members in its belief that the spiritual self is not allowed to move to higher levels until it learns from past mistakes. … Some Wiccans also point to the film as particularly important to their beliefs, because Groundhog Day — the day itself — is one of the four "greater sabbats" that divide the year at the midpoints between the solstices and equinoxes. Several Web sites devoted to Wicca call the movie required viewing.
- Alex Kuczynski, in "Groundhog Almighty" in The New York Times (7 December 2003)]
- Mr. Murray is back in top form with a clever, varied role that draws upon the full range of his talents. As in Scrooged, he makes a transition from supreme cynic to nice guy, and this time he does so with particularly good grace. Half Capra and half Kafka, the story of Groundhog Day presents golden opportunities, particularly in the gently romantic scenes with Ms. MacDowell. Mr. Murray is as believable and appealing at these moments as he is flinging insults. Ms. MacDowell, a warm comic presence and a thorough delight, plays a modern working woman while also reminding viewers that this is at heart a fairy tale. As Phil tries one desperate tactic after another, fairy tale fans will be way ahead of him, knowing what it takes to break a spell.
- There have been a lot of messing-with-time movies where you can't help but see the influence of Groundhog Day … Every time it happens, my friends say: "You just got ripped off. I hope they paid you." I'm, like: "No, it's an homage." It's not like I'm being erased. It's an honour. I always thought the premise could be explored a million different ways. I welcome all of these explorations; it's fun for me because I like to see how other people play with the idea. Basically it shows how ubiquitous it's become in the culture. It's getting harder and harder now to find anyone who hasn't seen it.
- All those films reinvent structure and create a new conceptual framework that makes you understand them … They share an almost surrealistic vision, and they pose philosophical questions. Groundhog Day is there primarily to entertain, but there are lots of really intelligent ideas in it. It makes me think of Deleuze and his thoughts on how change can arise from repetition. The film follows that to the letter. … I thought straight away that it was a classic … other generations will understand immediately what's so good about it. To me, it's a perfect film.