Thursday, February 17, 2011

Thanksgiving Dinners, Sugar Packets and Groundhog Day

A couple of weeks ago, this was my Facebook status:

"just one thing I love about Groundhog Day (the movie). Bill Murray cannot escape his own salvation, even by trying to kill himself. And yet he still has to make his own decisions on his own time, as he inevitably discovers the pathway to true happiness and humanity."

Well, here is another thing I love about the movie Groundhog Day (which has steadily climbed up my personal rankings over the years and is now tied for my number one favorite movie): One of its messages is that morality is real.

You see, if morality is real, then following a moral path will result in a deeper, more meaningful, more enjoyable life. Phil Connors is not a good person at the start of the movie. He is petty and his vision of reality is super narrow. Is he happy? Perhaps, but in the way a child eating a sugar packet would be happy without the knowledge, or the mature palette, to realize and enjoy the fact that a full Thanksgiving dinner is in the next room.

Phil becomes caught in a time loop where each day is a repetition of the same before it. At first he acts like a child, pursuing whatever fleeting pleasure he can think of. Then he sets his sights on loftier goals (bedding Andie MacDowell's character) and fails and fails. She sees through him. Then he despairs, but even when he tries to kill himself, he awakens to live the same day again. Then Phil slowly begins to better himself.

According to my friend Rich, in the original screenplay Connors lives the same day over and over for the equivalent of thousands of years. And he is gradually changed - not by direct force, but by constant exposure to the realities of what actually makes a person happy on a deeper level and his deficiencies in that regard. He begins to help others, learn new things and consequently he becomes a part of a community. He is no longer an isolated ego floating in a bubble of narrow awareness. He is no longer the child eating the sugar packet. Now he is sitting down to a Thanksgiving Dinner, with mature tastes allowing him the great and deep enjoyment of living life to the full - connected to others and his environment. He is now a part of a whole. And this realization is not simply his preference. No, it is what is bound to happen when a person is given the chance to explore fully and discover the sources of true well-being. Morality is real. But our ability to utilize morality corresponds to our level of awareness. Phil found himself in a time loop where he had no choice but to eventually grow and develop that mature palette for the Thanksgiving dinner. (of course a little sugar in the iced tea never hurt anybody....)

To me, this is how true corrective love would work. If morality is real, meaning its benefit is real, then it will lure us towards it (and has already done so to an extent, else we would not know what it is at all). Given enough time to develop the proper awareness, a person would understand its nature and recognize that it is there for a reason, not simply by some arbitrary command -whether by society, parent or divine being - which serves no purpose towards deeper levels of well-being.

A message of Groundhog Day is that morality is a deep metaphysical reality, built into the structure of things and as our level of awareness grows so does the capability, the responsibility and the inevitability of moral growth in our lives.

When the movie first came out, I saw it in the theater. Then I saw it again the very next day, which I thought was a bit ironic....


  1. Great analysis, it makes me think of the saying, "life is too short to hold a grudge." Which if that is true the opposite is also true, a lifetime is just short enough to hold a grudge. I think that's what Phil realizes in Groundhog Day, that when faced with the weight of eternity whether consciously or unconsciously he starts to bend towards becoming a better person.

  2. Steven, what an excellent sentiment. If you started a religion, I'd totally join it!
    In all seriousness, though, it's fascinating to me how pervasive the "morals" espoused by movies can become in the popular culture. We need more movies like Groundhog Day, and fewer that display that happily-ever-after, get-rich-quick, revenge-is-sweet mentality. It's a surprisingly effective means of social change, so long as it isn't heavy-handed (Happy Feet comes to mind...).

  3. PS... It's sad that most of the "real morality" movies are so high-brow, deep or "artsy" - think Pan's Labyrinth, Gran Torino or 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days - whereas the movies with claim to be morality tales are so shallow and petty, like Tangled (though it was hilarious!), The Bourne Identity (how much more moral can you get than trying to save your own egoistic identity, she asks sarcastically), or myriad others.

  4. Wasn't I your eighth grade Sunday School teacher...I cannot remember you even discussing...grin

    I just didn't wait long enough...

  5. Awesome post Steve! Love it!!!

    Also, I enjoyed your Thanksgiving example. It made the composition easier to "digest" :-)

  6. Rich, I have not heard it put that way before - "a lifetime is just short enough to hold a grudge". That is fantastic.

    Kelly, good point. Claiming to be a morality tale is a bit suspect, as I would not suspect anything but a superficial version, but you never know! As to starting a religion...oh boy...that is exactly what would take me, in the eyes of my more conservative religious friends and family, from sincere but misguided seeker to grade a FALSE TEACHER destined for the outer darkness. Whew! In other words, I will consider it. ;)

    Doc Pontious, didn't we do a lot of bible trivia? Good times!

    John......still digesting here.....