Movie Dharma Discussion: Groundhog Day


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Movie Dharma Discussion: Groundhog Day

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About Groundhog Day

The romance-comedy-fantasy Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray, opened in theatres in 1993, to both critical and commercial success. It tells the tale of a man who unwittingly embarks on a spiritual misadventure as he relives a particular day over and over - until he gets it right. It's a timeless tale about the deeper significance of deja vu experiences, and the infinite chances we squander and get. Many Buddhists regard the film Groundhog Day as one of the greatest “Buddhist” movies ever produced. [It is also dubbed by some other religious leaders as the most spiritual movie of our time.] Although Groundhog Day does not speak specifically or directly of the Buddhist teachings, the movie explores concepts such as rebirth, karma and self-realisation in a way that religious and non-religious people alike can enjoy and understand.

The film won a British Academy Award for Best Screenplay and a London Critics Circle award for Harold Ramis (director, who became somewhat Buddhist) and Danny Rubin (scriptwriter, who is a Zen Buddhist), who dreamt up the story and co-wrote the screenplay. The film was nominated for a Hugo (the science fiction award). Groundhog Day was released in 1993, and claimed the top spot in the box office for two weeks. Worldwide, the movie brought in more than $100 million.

Plot Summary

Phil Connor is an egocentric weatherman in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who is assigned to cover "Groundhog Day" - the annual festival in the town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. A groundhog is a type of very large squirrel or similar rodent that has become important in American legend because it is said that when a groundhog comes out from its underground home in early February, it predicts whether or not winter will continue. If it looks at its own shadow, winter will last six more weeks, and if it doesn't, spring will arrive early. 

In the movie, Phil goes to Punxsutawney to broadcast this event with his producer, Rita, and their cameraman, Larry. The groundhog sees his shadow, and thus winter should last six more weeks. And that should be the end of it. But in fact, it's just the beginning, for Phil wakes up the next day to find… that it is Groundhog Day all over again. Unfortunately, he's the only one who seems to realize that this day is “over”, already “come and gone”.

The rest of the movie is a comic exploration of a very extreme example of "deja vu," the feeling that one has already seen or experienced something. Trapped in some kind of time warp, Phil seems condemned to relive the same day over and over and over.

Fortunately, Phil is able to learn from the dilemma he finds himself in, and gradually takes advantage of all the knowledge he gets after continually reliving the same day. Once he knows what people will do, and how they think, and what they like, he soon learns to use his knowledge of the immediate future. He learns to make money, impress women, and eventually grow beyond his angry and selfish ways in order to help as many people as he can, including himself. []

Questions for Reflection

Phil: I'm reliving the same day over and over. It's like yesterday never happened.

01. Do you live this life like there was no previous one? Why?

Rita: Do you ever have déjà vu?
Phil: Didn't you just ask me that?

02. Do you ever have déjà vu? What do you think it means?

Rita: What did you do today?
Phil: Oh, same old, same old.

03: Are you living your life the same old way today? Why?

Phil: Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn't one today.

04: Does tomorrow really exists? When? Today?

Ned (After Phil steps in puddle): Watch out for that first step.

05. Should you watch out only for the first, middle, last or every step?

Phil: I was in the Virgin Islands once. I met a girl. We ate lobster, drank pina 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?

06. Why can’t you live the good days over and over?

Gus (holding up glass): Some guys would look at this glass and they would say, "That glass is half empty." Other guys would say, "That glass is half full." I peg you as a "glass is half empty" kind of guy. Am I right?

07. What kind of person are you? Optimistic, pessimistic or realistic?

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? 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: I’m not going to live by their rules anymore. You make choices and you live with them.

08. What would you do if there is no tomorrow? Why?
09. Do you live by redundant rules?
10. Do you gladly live with your choices?

Phil: Rita, if you only had one day to live, what would you do with it?
Rita: I don't know, Phil. What are you dying of?
Phil: No. I mean - the whole world is about to explode. What do you do?

11. What would you do if you only had one day to live? Why?
(You might really have only this day left to live!)

Rita: Don't you worry about cholesterol, lung cancer, love handles?
Phil: I don't worry about anything anymore.
Rita: What makes you so special? Everybody worries about something.

12. What worries you? Are they justified? Why?

Phil: Do you think I'm acting like this because I'm egocentric?

Rita: I know you're egocentric. It's your defining characteristic.

13. What are the defining characteristics (of your ego or egolessness)?

Phil: So what do you want out of life?

Rita: I guess I want what everybody wants: You know: career, love, marriage, children.

14: What do you want out of life? Why?

Rita: What do you want?

Phil: What I really want is someone like you.

15. Do you want someone perfect or to become someone perfect? Why?

Phil: Who is your perfect guy?

Rita: First of all, he’s too humble to know he’s perfect.
Phil: That’s me.

16. Do you think you are perfect? Are you proud if you think so?

Phil: People place too much emphasis on their careers. I wish we could all live in the mountains at high altitude. That’s where I see myself in five years. How about you?

Rita: I agree.

17. Where do you see yourself in five years? Why? What about tomorrow, or today?

Rita: I like to go with the flow, see where it leads me.

Phil: It’s led you here.

18. Do you go with the flow? Why?

Rita: I'm just amazed, and I'm not easily amazed.

Phil: About what?
Rita: How you can start a day with one kind of expectation and end up so completely different.
Phil: Well, do you like the way this day is turning out?
Rita: I like it very much. It's a perfect day. You couldn't plan a day like this.
Phil: Well, you can. It just takes an awful lot of work.

19. Do your days ever turn out as expected? Why?
20. Can you plan a perfect day? Why?

Phil: I love you.
Rita: You love me? You don’t even know me.

21. Can you love who or what you don’t really know?

Rita: What are you doing? Are you making some kind of list or something? Did you call up my friends and ask about what I like and what I don't like? Is this what love is for you?
Phil: No. This is real. This is love.
Rita: Stop saying that! You must be crazy. I could never love someone like you, Phil, because you could never love someone else but yourself.
Phil: That's not true. I don't even like myself. Give me another chance. (Rita slaps him.)

22. What is real love? Is it good understanding, communication or…? Why?

23. Do you love only yourself? Why?

Phil: I’ll give you a winter prediction. It’s gonna be cold. It’s gonna be gray and it’s gonna last you for the rest of your life.

24. Do you live self-fulfilling prophecies? Why?

Phil: I've come to the end of me. There's no way out now.

25. Is there ever no way out? Why?

Phil: I'm a god.
Rita: You're a god?
Phil: I'm a god. I'm not the “God” - I don't think [so].
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: Every morning I wake up without a scratch on me. Not a dent in the fender. I am an immortal.

26. Have you ever felt invincible or have a death wish? Why?

Phil: Maybe the real “God” uses tricks. Maybe he's not omnipotent. He's just been around so long, he knows everything.

27. Can there be an omnipotent, omniscient and omni-benevolent being? Who?

Rita (on Phil flipping cards into a hat): Is this what you do with eternity?

Phil: Now you know. That's not the worst part.
Rita: What's the worst part?
Phil: The worst part is that tomorrow you would have forgotten all about this and you'll treat me like a jerk again.
Rita: No.
Phil: It's alright. I am a jerk.
Rita: No you're not.
Phil: It doesn't make any difference. I've killed myself so many times, I don't even exist anymore.
Rita: Well, sometimes I wish I had a thousand lifetimes. I don't know, Phil. Maybe it's not a curse. It just depends on how you look at it.

28. What do you do with eternity? What would not be good about it?
29. Is rebirth a good, bad or neutral thing?

Phil: (Reading) “Only ‘God’ can make a tree.” Really?

30. Does it take (everything in) the universe to create the universe?

Phil: The first time I saw you, something happened to me. I never told you, but I knew I wanted to hold you as hard as I could. I don’t deserve someone like you.

31. Is it ever love, attachment at first sight, reconnection or something else?

Nurse: Sometimes people just die.

32. Can you accept sudden death (of yourself and others)? Why?

Phil: Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life.

33. Is the only unchanging thing change? Are changes always cyclic?

Phil: No matter what happens tomorrow, or the rest of my life, I'm happy now because I love you.

34. What is it that will make you happy no matter what happens tomorrow?

Phil: Something is different.

Rita: Good or bad?
Phil: Anything different is good… and this could be real good.

35. Is change definitely good, bad or neutral?

Phil: Do you know what today is?
Rita: No, what?
Phil: Today is tomorrow. It happened.

36. Isn’t today tomorrow in the sense that what you do today affects tomorrow?

Phil: Let's live here.

37. Is any particular place and time really better than here and now? Can you go there?

Points for Reflection

01. Beginning to Learn

The movie, as everyone knows, is about a man who finds himself living the same day over and over and over again. He is the only person in his world who knows this is happening, and after going through periods of dismay and bitterness, revolt and despair, suicidal self-destruction and cynical recklessness, he begins to do something that is alien to his nature. He begins to learn. []

02. Compassion for All

It is interesting that although Phil is initially a jerk by his behaviour, the audience naturally begin to feel compassion for his suffering, just as he too naturally begins to feel compassion for those suffering. Compassion then, is surely part of our true nature, given enough time and opportunity to awaken it.

03. When You Get It Right

[From] An interview with Robert Thurman, author of "Infinite Life: Seven Virtues for Living Well," who was the first Westerner ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist monk and one of Time magazine's 25 Most Influential People in 1997. Here's the nut graf, as far as I am concerned: "My new guru in life is Bill Murray, because actually the best metaphor for the infinite life, the reincarnation thing, is 'Groundhog Day.' You keep coming back until you get it right. When you get it right, then you have a really great time. Nirvana means you live with other beings in a really happy way. And we all could, in the 21st century -- if we used our brains a little better." []

04. Fresh Start Everyday

Groundhog day is a micro version of rebirth or compressed Samsara! It is likened to being caught in the cycle of birth and death. We are in a certain sense trapped, yet free - to free ourselves, to attain True Happiness, instead of fretting and resigning to "fate". Every day then, is a fresh Groundhog day - a fresh chance to stop repeating, and to make up for the mistakes we made yesterday. [] Déjà vu experiences should in fact allow us to recall and prevent the same mistakes.

05. No Tomorrow?

Trapped in a time-warp of the worst day of your life? Are you living the same day over and over again? Are there no consequences for doing so? Or will the consequences repeat according to what we repeat? If you live life like there is no tomorrow in a negative way, there will be no positive tomorrow. This is the law of karma at play. But there is also no tomorrow, in the sense that only today is real, while tomorrow is always coming – which becomes the today you shaped. We are stuck in space and time when we do not change. But even if everyday is the “same”, what can differ is a change of mind. As such, there are still many possibilities to choose from.

06. Parallel to Monastic Practice

This film parallels Buddhist practice. In a training temple, the wake-up bell rings the same time every day. You go to the same place, wear the same clothes, and follow the same routine, and yet each moment is unique. Not distracted by your desire for changed conditions, you can live each moment not knowing what it will bring, seeing the familiar landscape with new eyes.


07. Not Abandoning the World

A central tenet of Buddhism is the concept of Samsara. Samsara is a continuing cycle of rebirth, suffering that a human must work to escape. Dr. Angela Zito, co-director of the Center for Religion and Media at New York University, describes the film as a cinematic version of the teachings of Mahayana Buddhism. She told The New York Times that "In Mahayana, 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 Buddhists see in Phil Connors an example of the experience of every human. The "bad character" exhibited by Connors represents the human's attachment to greed, hatred and ignorance. These attachments prevent a person from living a "perfect day", much less a perfect life. The focus on "I/Me/Mine" also keeps the person bound to suffering. As a result, the person is routed through uncountable lifetimes. It is not until the person is able to abandon concepts of the individual self that he/she is able to escape the cycles of life, and the bondage of his/her own mind. Reb Anderson, Tenshin Roshi and lineage holder in the Soto Zen tradition summarized the idea at a meeting of the San Francisco Zen Center, when he said, "Get away from seeing time. Give up the future and the past. That brings you to the moment." As Connors learns to live in the perpetual Groundhog Day, he demonstrates such a principle. []

08. Realisation of Non-Self

Hundreds if not thousands of Groundhog Days pass. He soon realizes that his actions have had a consequence on himself, a concept recognized by Buddhists as karma. With every passing repeated day, he gets more and more depressed, eventually losing all concept of who he is. He tries committing suicide, but he still wakes up every single day in Punxsutawney. In desperation he says, “I’ve killed myself so many times, I don’t even exist anymore.” At this point, he has attained [sic: caught a glimpse of] emptiness of self, the first step in Buddhism to enlightenment. As Jacky Sach, a Buddhist writer explains, “…the self is an illusion born of the ego with no reality to base itself on” (Sach 35). After realizing that he is nothing, Phil repurposes his life. He spends each day helping others. He tries to save the life of a homeless man, reunites an estranged couple, and entertains the entire town with his newly learned piano skills. All these new acts put others above his self. Finally, after he has realized the non-existence of self, he escapes the cycle, awaking on February 3. This escaping from the eternal cycle is the fundamental goal of Buddhist practice, called nirvana, which a Buddhist sees as escaping the cycle of reincarnation and becoming one with the universe.

…The filmmakers put sound and music to great use in many scenes. The opening theme, “Weatherman” by Delbert McClinton, seems to summarize the entire story; it tells the tale of someone being depressed and feeling down but then being uplifted when they realize that they cannot rely only on themselves. When Phil awakes everyday, he hears a similar message in the song, “I Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher. The line “so put your little hand in mine/there ain’t no hill or mountain we can’t climb” wakes Phil every morning on his alarm clock. Both these songs support the movie’s theme of overcoming egocentrism.

An especially interesting theme in the movie is a metaphor of cold weather symbolizing depression and the helplessness of Phil. In the opening song, there is a line which expresses this metaphor well: “predictions show, extended low/I'm feeling just the same.” Here, the cold weather represents Phil’s egocentrism which makes him feel incomplete. But the song gets more cheerful with the line, "but seasons come, and seasons go, I'll make you smile again.” That line not only emphasizes the Buddhist doctrine of expressing loving-kindness to others, but it also shows the growing optimism of Phil. When the groundhog predicts a longer winter, he foreshadows the doubt and tribulations that Phil will face. Even the radio disc jockey expresses Phil’s feelings of helplessness through the cold when he says, “It's cold outside!  It’s cold outside every day." Phil explicitly realizes this when he predicts for himself, “It's gonna be cold, it's gonna be grey, and it’s gonna last you the rest of your life.” Once Phil has overcome his egocentrism, he takes a much more optimistic view of the cold winter, stating, “winter is just another step in the cycle of life.” This cycle he has realized is called samsara in Buddhism (Sach 18).


09. Thought Transformation 

The important thing is how we respond to our situation. We can transform anything if we respond in a skillful way. This is precisely what karma is about. If we greet situations with a positive attitude, we will eventually create positive returns. If we respond with a negative attitude, negative things will eventually come our way. Unlike the scenario in the movie, it doesn't always happen right away. We can be very nice people but still have lots of problems. On the other hand, we can be awful people and have a wonderful time. But from a Buddhist perspective, it's just a matter of time before we receive the results of our conduct. And usually it is true that people with a positive attitude encounter positive circumstances. Even if the circumstances do not appear positive, they can be transformed through a positive view. On the other hand people with negative minds complain even when things are going well. They also transform circumstances, but they transform positive ones into negative ones!


Both our present and our future depend on us. From moment to moment, we are creating our future. We are not a ball of dust tossed about by the winds of fate. We have full responsibility for our lives. The more aware we become, the more capable we are of making skillful choices. As we make more and more skillful choices, our lives become increasingly smooth and easy. Awareness and clarity of mind are so important because we have produced many of our problems through our confused mental states. Taking responsibility for our lives doesn't mean that we have to blame ourselves for everything. Indulging in feelings of guilt and self-flagellation is useless. Often people tell themselves, "This only happened because I'm such a stupid, worthless person." That is just a waste of time. We need to use our increasing clarity of mind to make positive choices about the present and future rather than focus on the past and wallow in self-blame. We all have innate intelligence. We just have to develop it and gradually detach ourselves from our confusion. []

10. Every Day As Groundhog Day 

When we are mindful of others, we are focused on helping them to be fully present just by being fully present ourselves. Watch the body language of the people you work with. Working as a team requires that we understand how other members of the team function - their jobs and skills as well as emotional and spiritual strengths and weaknesses.

In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray is stuck in a day that repeats over and over. I've always felt that this is a movie about the practice of mindfulness. At first the character played by Murray is completely self-centered. He reacts to this experience of each day repeating in annoyance and anger. In particular he gets angry with people who keep doing the exact same things, repeating their mistakes and habits. At some point he begins just to notice what people do, without becoming impatient. Then he sees that by really paying attention to the people around him he can understand and make real connections with them. By connecting with others he develops a renewed appreciation of his own life and begins to achieve many of the things that had eluded him previously. [Z.B.A.: Zen of Business Administration - How Zen Practice Can Transform Your Work & Life (Marc Lesser)]

11. Phases of Transformation

The story of Groundhog Day includes a number of phases:

1. The beginning, which takes place in normal time, in which the character is self-centered and embodies hate of self and others, defense and constriction.

2. The bulk of the movie, which takes place in an enchanted timelessness in which the character becomes other-directed, loving and free.

This has a number of sub-phases, which can, more or less, be described as:

  • bewilderment;

  • despair;

  • risk-taking and treating life as a game with selfish ends;
  • first breakthrough to intimacy;

  • generosity and the embracing of life;

  • shock at, and refusal to accept, death;

  • acceptance of the circumstances of life and death, and breakthrough to deep compassion (love);

  • being celebrated as a local hero and a second experience of intimacy in which he gets the object of his love.

3. The end, which has moved back into normal time, but which is now enchanted in a different way, by the attitude of the main character.

In showing us this transformation, the movie provides a fictional counterpart to a universal experience, one that some people have in their own lives: that a confrontation with death and/or an acceptance of the circumstances of life, leads to a freeing up of the self, with greater enjoyment and compassion. []

12. Death & Dying

And "Groundhog Day" hooked into a more general idea that people really respond to: What if you could do things over again? Danny Rubin actually took Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (a psychiatrist) as a model in dealing with a terminal illness -- her five stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. They were used that as a template for Phil's progress.


13. Five Stages of Grief

The Kübler-Ross model describes, in five discrete stages, the process by which people deal with grief and tragedy. Terminally ill patients are said to experience these stages. The model was introduced by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying. The stages have become well known, and are called the Five Stages of Grief.

  1. Denial : The initial stage: "It can't be happening."
  2. Anger : "Why ME? It's not fair?!" (either referring to “God”, oneself, or anybody perceived, rightly or wrongly, as "responsible")

  3. Bargaining : "Just let me live to see my son graduate."

  4. Depression : "I'm so sad, why bother with anything?"

  5. Acceptance : "It's going to be OK."

Kübler-Ross originally applied these stages to any form of catastrophic personal loss (job, income, freedom). This also includes the death of a loved one and divorce. Kübler-Ross also claimed these steps do not necessarily come in order, nor are they all experienced by all patients, though she stated a person will always experience at least two.

Others have noticed that any significant personal change can follow these stages. For example, experienced criminal defense attorneys are aware that defendants who are facing stiff sentences, yet have no defenses or mitigating factors to lessen their sentences, often experience the stages. Accordingly, they must get to the acceptance stage before they are prepared to plead guilty.

Additionally, the change in circumstances does not always have to be a negative one, just significant enough to cause a grief response to the loss (Scire, 2007). Accepting a new work position, for example, causes one to lose their routine, workplace friendships, familiar drive to work, even customary lunch sources. []
14. Rebirth

Our lives have rebirth in both the daily routine sense, and life-to-life sense. Problem is we forget – which can be a blessing too – for are we sure we can live with all the painful past? “The cycle in which Phil finds himself is comparable to the cycle of death and rebirth in which Buddhists believe. The Buddha taught that one must work lifetime after lifetime to achieve liberation; an individual who followed a path of morality, wisdom and practiced meditation was likely to achieve liberation more quickly than one who lived a life based on selfishness and greed.

Phil's process of rebirth is closely related to the idea of karma. Buddhism holds that an individual must spend lifetime after lifetime generating good karma, helping others to achieve Nirvana. In the movie Phil learns to use his knowledge of what will happen throughout the day to help people. Knowing that a child falls out of a tree at the same time every day, Phil makes sure he is there to catch the child. After changing his reactions to circumstances and by making a point to live a more compassionate and caring life, Phil is finally able to breakthrough the cycle of rebirth. Phil discovers his true self in which kindness, intimacy and creativity come naturally.”


15. The First Noble Truth

While Phil initially struggles with the idea that he must endure the same day over and over, he gradually learns to accept it. This epitomizes the Buddhist belief in accepting reality and suffering known as Dukkha (dissatisfaction), an unavoidable part of life. By accepting his situation, Phil grows in compassion and understanding and starts to change his reactions.


16. Self-Reliance

The movie also epitomizes the Buddhist belief that individuals are responsible for their own liberation. The Buddha preached that blind belief in a god or guru would not lead to personal salvation. Bill Murray's character in Groundhog Day slowly begins to realise that by changing his own reactions to seemingly inevitable events in the day, he can become responsible for his own peace and happiness. []

17. Suicide is Not An Option

Groundhog Day has an existential subtext that has contributed to the growth of a cult following around the film. Phil Conners's situation reflects that which is described in Albert Camus' essay The Myth of Sisyphus. In both cases, the protagonist is forced to undertake the same tasks day after day, only to have the fruits of his labor constantly roll away. Since suicide is not an option, the protagonist must learn to find aesthetic joy within an ultimately meaningless existence. The difference between Phil Conners and Sisyphus is that Conners is freed from his situation once he finds happiness within himself, while Sysiphus is not. []

[Comments: Likewise, suicide is not an option in Buddhism – since we will be reborn. Suicide also tends to lead to more unfortunate rebirths. Even death is not an escape; only Nirvana is. The point is to realise what is pointless in life, to let those aspects go, and to rebuild life meaningfully in the moment by increasing compassion and wisdom for one and all.]

18. Personal Transformation Process

The movie offers a number of contrasts that highlight the character's transformation: Earlier, he gorges on food, because of his despair over his life situation. Later, he provides a feast for the old vagrant in an effort to conquer despair over life's consequences for other people; Earlier, he keeps killing himself. Later, he keeps saving people. Earlier, he injures people's self-esteem with sarcasm and drives them away. Later, he enlarges people with his vision of life, bolsters their self-esteem and draws them to him like a magnet. Earlier, he is forced to be in Punxsutawney. Later, he decides to live there. Earlier, he tries to simulate a false self, to win the female producer, and fails. Later, he shows her the real “self” he never knew he had and wins her over.

(Incidentally, he has to show her a false self because he hates himself so much, he doesn't believe anyone can love him. Once he experiences the breakthrough and what he has to offer is all out there, the “self” he shows to her becomes congruent with the “self” he experiences.)

19. Phil & Phil

The movie also attempts to create a mythic resonance by implying an identification between Murray's character and the groundhog: they are both trapped weather forecasters named Phil with some mystical connection to larger forces. As noted, there is an additional connection: Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog, and Phil the TV weather forecaster, are both used by people to tell what will happen next, because they fear suffering and want to control the conditions of life. But Phil, the human weather forecaster, has learned to accept life as it comes and so he gets to escape his entrapment, while the groundhog and most everyone else remain stuck in theirs’. []

20. Every Little Thing Counts

In some ways, it's about karma. Everyday we may lead a life that we think is monotonous, but every little decision we make has certain effects. [Comments: Though you cannot return to the past to make a brand new start, you can always make a brand new start now, and make a brand new ending.] []

21. Given Forever for Self-Examination

It is also an extended lesson in how to kill time. "What do you do with infinity?" Rita asks, and Phil has to answer that, at that point, he hasn't done much with it. But as he realizes that he can spend his time more productively, he must also realize that even before his long succession of Groundhog Days has begun, his life had been devoid of meaning and purpose…

Phil's situation in Groundhog Day is, in fact, that of an individual who is compelled, for an extensive length of time, to examine his own effect on other people, and to even conduct experiments of a kind. He discovers how to melt an icy attitude, how to break down others' defenses, how to gain others' confidence. He learns, in short, to understand his impact on other people - his own place in the scheme of things. The endless succession of Groundhog Days is, for Phil, an extended analysis of his own interaction with others. [Source lost]

22. Change From Within

Another thing the movie suggests to us is the importance of concentrating on the things that last. Phil Connors must live the same day over and over again, and is forced to realize that the only real change that will ever be possible must happen within himself. []

23. Generosity Despite Uncertainty

… Uncertainty can keep us from charitable acts. We use our ignorance like a crutch: we don't give to charity because it may be a scam, we don't offer to help someone because they may not need help anyway, and so on. But Phil doesn't have the luxury of ignorance: he knows, with absolute certainty, that if he isn't on hand at the right time, a boy will fall from a tree and break his neck, that a man will choke to death at dinner. Faced with such knowledge, even Phil, self-absorbed as he is, cannot stand by idly. Nor could we, in his position. This is a powerful argument for knowledge as the most reliable foundation for generous behavior. []

24. The Moment is Ephemeral

Some of the more poignant moments in the movie come when Phil is relating to other characters, particularly Rita, but is constrained by the knowledge that the moment is ephemeral, and that the other person will have no knowledge of the encounter the "next" day. Phil is prevented from permanently touching anyone else's life. He is in the world but not of it. [Comments: This reminds us of forgotten past lives, of how we should just treasure the moment without attachment to it.] []

25. Live in the Moment

The secret of enduring the same endless day is to finally surrender, to stop trying to move into the future or rig the day you're stuck with to get everything just right - just that old Zen trick of living in the moment. "Get away from seeing time. Give up the future and the past. That brings you to the moment," was a comment. []

26. Glimpse of Infinity

Much of the awe I personally feel for this movie derives from the implications of the infinite it contains: Phil living an infinite number of Groundhog Days; having his misery, and his happiness, and his frustrations - the totality of his experiences - multiplied an infinite number of times.

Not literally an infinite number of times, of course - it might be 42 days (six weeks), as some have claimed, but in order for Phil to learn to play the piano like that, it's more probably a couple years' worth of Groundhog Days, at the least. Perhaps 10 years' worth; perhaps 30. We don't know; neither does Phil; the passing of time is measured not in minutes, but in slow, faltering steps toward a goal.

There is a close connection, of course, between the infinite and death; death being the “equivalent” of infinity for mortals such as ourselves. [There is rebirth though.] Phil is, in a sense, a dead man, experiencing the afterlife; at the end of the movie, he is, perhaps, resurrected. The reason for his "resurrection" is unclear, and perhaps best left that way. It is tempting to suppose that he has redeemed himself, and that a return to the world is his reward; but the really interesting part of the movie is what comes before this, the process of redemption itself. Still, it is delicious to imagine that each morning, with the radio DJ's "the question on everybody's lips (their chapped lips) is... will Phil see his shadow today?", Phil hears but fails to recognize the solution, big-as-life and in broad daylight, to his dilemma - because the question in fact refers to himself. []

27. Inevitability of Death

Then, an encounter with death - an old vagrant dies in his day -- has a deep effect on him. At first, he can't accept the man's death and, in at least one subsequent edition of the day, he tries to be good to the old man, taking him out to eat (for a last meal) and trying, unsuccessfully, to keep him alive. []

28. Compassion for the Living

When he stops trying to force death to relent, his final defenses fall away and his compassion for the old man transfers to the living. He begins to use his knowledge of how the day will unfold to help people. Knowing that a child will always fall from a tree at a certain time, he makes it a point to be there and catch the child every time. Knowing that a man will choke on his meal, he is always at a nearby table in the restaurant to save him. []

29. Acceptance of Freedom

Slowly, he goes through a transformation. Having suffered himself, he is able to empathize with other people's suffering. Having been isolated from society, he becomes a local hero in Punxsutawney. Now, he sees the glass as half full, and the day as a form of freedom. As he expresses it in a corny TV speech about the weather that he gives for the camera, at the umpteenth ceremony he has covered of the coming out of the groundhog: "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."

In other words, having accepted the conditions of life and learned the pleasures afforded by human companionship, he is no longer like all those people who fear life's travails, and try to use the weather forecast, by human or groundhog, to control events. He accepts "winter" as an opportunity. []

30. Freed By Being Trapped

What is so powerful about Groundhog Day is the way it lets us experience what it would be like to make a breakthrough like this in our own lives. The movie shows us a character who is like the worst in ourselves. He is arrogant and sarcastic, absorbed in his own discomforts, without hope, and cut off from other people. Like us, he finds himself in an inexplicable situation, seemingly a plaything of fate. But, unlike us, he gets the luxury of being stuck in the same day until he gets it right. Whereas most of us go semi-automatically through most of our (very similar) days, he is forced to stop and treat each day like a world onto itself, and decide how to use it. In the end, he undergoes a breakthrough to a more authentic self in which intimacy, creativity and compassion come naturally - a self that was trapped inside him and that could only be freed by trapping him. Like many of the heroes of fiction, he can only escape his exile from himself by being exiled in a situation not of his choosing. []

31. Breakthroughs

In telling this story, the movie hits on a message that is commonly found elsewhere and that appears to express an essential truth. When we get beyond denial and resentment over the conditions of life and death, and accept our situation, it tells us then, life ceases to be a problem and we can become authentic and compassionate. Murray's character makes two such breakthroughs: first he accepts being condemned to being stuck in the same day, then he accepts the fact that everyone else is condemned to die. []

32. Becoming a Bodhisattva Superman

He had had a gradual awakening each day, adding a new part to his regular routine of helping others. Finally this habit of helping others became automatic and non-thinking; it was just what must be done… That one for me was about getting off the wheel of comedy by losing yourself, which is a purely Buddhist idea: The hero stops thinking about himself and starts performing service. That's what Mahayana Buddhism is all about… That is a superman analogy with Phil. How can Superman waste time talking to Lois Lane. There's always going to be some submarine trapped somewhere, or someone falling some place. He should be booked constantly, solidly. He doesn't even need to sleep. This guy should be working 24/7 to protect people. So I thought with Phil Conners, he's gonna play with time. His day's gonna be really packed. Oops, got to catch this kid falling off a tree. I'm going to help the old ladies with the tire. He stops worrying about himself all the time and then starts living his life as service for others. [Harold Ramis]

33. Turning Point

I asked what Reb thought was the turning point in the film. After watching it for the ninth or tenth time specifically to find where the third act begins, I concluded that it begins 4/5 of the way into the 103 minute film, at about the 80 minute mark. Phil is throwing cards into the hat, and Rita points out that the eternally repeating day doesn't have to be a curse. Reb Anderson disagreed. He thought the turning point came later, when Phil found he was unable to save the old man's life. Only here, he said, did Phil realize "It's not me, it is the universe, I am just the vessel."… The movie illustrates the power of practice. When you practice, change happens. Phil unleashed his creativity by selflessness. []

34. Life-Centered

…by Ezra Bayda, and is excerpted from his book, “At Home In The Muddy Water”. The article is a very interesting analysis, but it is opening anecdote which concerns us here: “In the movie Groundhog Day, the main character wakes up every morning in the exact same place, at the exact same time, always having to repeat the same day - Groundhog Day. No matter what he experiences, he still wakes up having to repeat the day. No matter what he does, he can't get what he wants, which in this case is the sexual conquest of his female colleague. Although he tries all of the other classic strategies of escape, nothing works; he still wakes up the next day to the same mess.

In the meantime, another part of him is growing. He starts moving from just trying to fulfill his own desires to doing things for other people. For example, every day he saves the same child from falling out of the same tree at the same time. He even starts using his once ego-driven accomplishments, such as playing the piano, to entertain others, not just to serve himself. Finally, not through purposeful effort or even awareness, he becomes more and more life-centered, less and less self-centered. And in typical Hollywood fashion, he gets the girl. However, his real success lies in breaking free from the repeating patterns of his personality." []

35. The Weight of Time

Danny Rubin the scriptwriter, says that the movie addresses existential issues we all face – which are largely untapped in cinema. It is about being stuck in space and time [we all are]… What we saw about the movie was the weight of time on the character. We see Phil becoming weary, as he hesitates one morning, unsure of whether to wake up and “repeat” the day. In Rubin’s original script, Phil lives thousands of years [as habits can be diehard]. He says, “We're not actually going to believe that he will change the kind of person he is because of a little experience but feel that it is because he can live forever [like us, via rebirth].” Bill is the only changing element in his world. The movie does not explain the source of the time warp – whether it’s a curse, cosmological or karmic phenomenon – because it is unimportant to the story’s message.

36. Master of Time

Phil runs daily Bodhisattva errands. “He goes from being a prisoner of that time and place to being a master. It's not about being a hero to Phil. It's about doing what you can do in the moment to make things better instead of to make things worse. Other people interpret him to be the god of the town (with a god's lifespan and omniscience?) which in a way he becomes. So be it. But that isn't his aim.” [Harold Ramis]

[Comments: Still, Phil could not help all because of limiting conditions, but every bit of kindness helps. Instead of being a prisoner of time, Phil uses time skillfully. Initially seeing the repeated day as freedom, Phil did not see repeating his unwise ways as a trap. Instead, when he realised his ways were a trap, he attained freedom.]

37. Mirror Opposite

Eventually, the Bill Murray character begins to "see the light." He begins to realize that maybe, just maybe, it is he himself that is "the real problem." In one key scene, he says to the Andie MacDowell character, whom he is starting to fall in love with, that he doesn’t believe he deserves someone as nice as she. Because she is so much the antithesis of him, it's as if her genuine sweetness acts as a "mirror" to show him how selfish, rude and downright mean-spirited he is. Almost immediately, once he begins to really see himself, he also begins to change.


38. Staying in Samsara

Phil suggests to Rita after their first night together, on the day after Groundhog Day, to live where they were - in a town where he is a hero, part of a community which “cannot” live without him. Choosing to stay, he is like a Bodhisattva who chooses to remain in Samsara out of compassion.

39. The Buddhist Lovers' Movie

The first inkling of what I got - The Buddhist Lovers' Movie. People who don't have any religion find it to be a particularly spiritual movie. It causes people to look inside of themselves to help someone, identification of what is really important… What we really want to say - You can live better. You can have a better life. You can change. And when you do change, you get those rewards that you want from life. [Harold Ramis]

The Enlightened 'Groundhog'
by Jeff Gammage, Philadelphia Inquirer, Feb 1, 2007

Philadelphia, PA (USA) -- Tomorrow is a big day for Buddhists who find spiritual meaning in the 1993 Bill Murray film about a man reliving the same day over and over. It appears on TV every year about this time, that deep and moving parable of Buddhist belief and enlightenment: Groundhog Day. The Bill Murray flick. (The recurring day that Bill Murray's character, Phil Connors, experiences in Punxsutawney, Pa., illustrates "samsara," the circle of birth and rebirth, for Buddhists.)

You thought the movie was a light Hollywood comedy. The tale of an egotistical weatherman forced to relive the same day again and again. It is, of course. But to Buddhists who explore its meaning at seminars and Web sites like Dharmawood, Groundhog Day is a sly allegory on the nature and complexity of their faith. "It shouts out to you," said George Heckert, the Buddhist director of the Philadelphia Meditation Center in Havertown.

This month, as it does every February, the center will hold a free screening of Groundhog Day and a discussion of its inner themes. For those who wish to come prepared, cable's Comedy Channel will show the film six times in 26 hours, beginning tomorrow - the real Groundhog Day - at 10 a.m. "It's a very Buddhist movie," said Ken Klein, of the Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia in Upper Darby. "It has all sorts of layers."

In the 1993 film, Murray plays cynical, self-important Phil Connors, a Pittsburgh TV weatherman sent to cover an assignment he loathes: the Groundhog Day festivities in tiny Punxsutawney, Pa. "A thousand people freezing their butts off, waiting to worship a rat," he gripes. Following the ceremony, a blizzard strands Connors in town, and when he wakes the next morning, it's Groundhog Day again. And again, and again, and again.

Connors tries everything to break the cycle - including driving off a cliff with a kidnapped Punxsutawney Phil at the wheel - but not even death can free him. To Buddhist fans, Connors' endlessly recurring day illustrates samsara, the circle of birth and rebirth. "The word reincarnation is never mentioned, yet it's such an obvious metaphor," said Paul Schindler Jr., an Oregon teacher whose writings on the film include the online column "Groundhog Day: The Movie, Buddhism and Me."

Connors' arrogance obstructs his enlightenment. Only when he surrenders his ego - "I don't even exist anymore" - does he achieve anatta, emptiness of self, and begin to practice service to others without expectation of reward.

By devoting himself to his fellow man, by fixing a flat tire for a carload of old ladies and trying to save the life of a homeless man, Connors starts to escape his eternal Feb. 2. "He has the chance to see the consequences of his actions," said Alex DeVaron, a Buddhist who heads the Shambhala Meditation Center in Center City. "The rest of us aren't so lucky, because we don't get to do days over," DeVaron said. But "we can try not to make the same mistakes."

In the end, Connors emerges into the light of a new day - and, of course, gets the girl, played by Andie MacDowell. To Buddhists, his ability to break free and move forward symbolizes the attainment of nirvana. "We are the groundhog," said Dean Sluyter, Buddhist chaplain at Northern State Prison in Newark, N.J., and author of Cinema Nirvana: Enlightenment Lessons From the Movies. "If we get transfixed by our own shadow... we're condemned to this redundant, selfish side of life."

Today, Groundhog Day ranks among the funniest movies of all time, according to the American Film Institute. Its title has become part of the lexicon, shorthand for any miserable event that occurs over and over.

In their first meeting, screenwriter Danny Rubin and director Harold Ramis touched on Buddhism, Rubin said in an e-mail interview. But over the years, Rubin said, he's received correspondence from Catholics, Jews and atheists, not to mention Nietzsche scholars, who see their beliefs in the film. "Truth is, I only set out to tell an entertaining story," he said. "My approach was to create a human experiment: If a person could live long enough, more than a single lifetime, would he fundamentally change?"

A plot centered on one eternal life would have been unwieldy. Would the hero live through the French Revolution, he wondered, or into a futuristic world? With a repeating day, what emerged were themes of rebirth and endless struggle, concepts familiar to many disciplines, but "maybe especially to Buddhists," Rubin said.

"I always thought of it as a young man's journey through life, like Siddhartha," he said, referring to author Hermann Hesse's spiritual seeker [and the story of the Buddha]. So is Groundhog Day a religious treatise? A comedy? Something else entirely? "If I were giving them a grade, the Buddhists get A's on their papers," said Wesleyan University film expert Jeanine Basinger. "Art is made to reach the viewer, and whatever they find in it, intended or not, is valid."

To film historians, Basinger said, Groundhog Day represents superior editing and narrative control. It's no accident that people see different things in it, she said, because, like the best movies, it operates on many levels. "I see something profound cinematically, and they see something profound spiritually," Basinger said. "And I think that's great."


Autobiography in Five Chapters

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost…I am hopeless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I’m in the same place.
But it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I see it is there.
I still fall in… it’s a habit
My eyes are open
I know where I am
It is MY fault.
I get out immediately.

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I walk around it.

I walk down another street.

- Portia Nelson


If you take care of each moment,

you take care of all time. – Buddhist Saying

Do not pursue the past. Do not lose yourself in the future.

The past no longer is. The future has not yet come.
Looking deeply at life as it is in the very here and now,
the practitioner dwells in stability and freedom.
We must be diligent today. To wait until tomorrow is too late.
Death comes unexpectedly. How can we bargain with it? - Bhaddekaratta Sutta (The Buddha)

To repeat a mistake once

is to be reborn negatively once. – Stonepeace

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over,

and expecting different results. - Benjamin Franklin

Salvation is not about you getting loved by all,
but about you being loving to all. – Stonepeace

You have forever to break free of life and death.
But if you take forever, you are forever trapped. – Stonepeace

Rebirth is an endless blessing because it can lead to endless joy.

Rebirth is an endless curse because it can lead to endless sorrow. – Stonepeace

All the joy the world contains is through wishing happiness for others.

All the misery the world contains has come through wanting pleasure for oneself.
- Shantideva

The Buddha taught: "When, Kalamas, this noble disciple has thus made his mind free of enmity, free of ill will, uncorrupted and pure, he has won Four Assurances in this very life:

"The First Assurance he has won is this:
 'If there is another world, and if good and bad deeds bear fruit and yield results,
 it is possible that with the breakup of the body, after death,
 I shall arise in a good destination, in a heavenly world.'

"The Second Assurance he has won is this:
 'If there is no other world, and if good and bad deeds do not bear fruit and yield results,
 still right here, in this very life,
 I live happily, free of enmity and ill will.'

"The Third Assurance he has won is this:
 'Suppose evil befalls the evil-doer.
 Then, as I do not intend evil for anyone,
 how can suffering afflict me, one who does no evil deed?'

"The Fourth Assurance he has won is this:
 'Suppose evil does not befall the evil-doer.
 Then right here, I see myself purified in both respects.'
 [because I do no evil, and because no evil (ie. suffering) will befall me]

- Kalama Sutta (The Buddha)


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