There was a meme floating around the Interwebs back in the early days of quarantine, discussing the iconic film Groundhog Day—one individual questioning the turning point in the story, which someone else was more than glad to answer.
Paraphrasing the original query, the individual asked when Bill's character broke the negative loop and got back to real life. The answer was simple, though the achievement was anything but—the metamorphosis took place when he selflessly started putting the needs of others over his own personal wants.
That one altruistic act proved to be everything.
Before getting ahead of ourselves, pedestrian as this may be for some—a quick summary of the 1993 fantasy-comedy, starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell and directed by the late Harold Ramis.
While we’d assume the masses who shop for Murray-inspired apparel are familiar with this classic—a deep-dive into it’s meaning would fall flat with those who aren’t, so let's re-live a movie about Bill re-living the same day over and over.
Bill portrays a cynical weatherman—Phil Connors—who aspired to do more with his career than cover the annual Groundhog Day-inspired event in Punxsutawney, Pennsylania—yet this is where life wound up, and he takes out his underachieving ways on everyone else in some smarmy or smart-ass manner.
"THEY SAY WE'RE YOUNG AND WE DON'T KNOW..."
The result, Phil finds himself trapped in a time loop that forced him to relive February 2nd—for up to 10,000 years, according to script co-writer Danny Rubin. (Ramis, the other half of the co-writing team, supposedly said the character was stuck in Pennsylvania purgatory for closer to a decade.)
Back to the meme and what it took for Bill to get out of this rough patch; he must live the day perfectly—putting the needs of others above his own 100-percent of the time—a near-impossible feat, which is why it took so long to get back.
Some of those feats; learning how to play the piano, catching a child who fell from a tree, fixing an old woman's flat tire, saving a homeless man, a well as performing the Heimlich Maneuver on the town’s mayor—all grand gestures, but similar in motivation; a desire to simply be better, sometimes at his own expense.
While these events are what led Phil to getting his life back, the newfound self-denying nature was a long time in the making.
Self-absorption was the name of the game early on—whether it was hijinks and police chases ending in violent death (yet still waking up at 6:00 a.m. in his hotel bed to the soothing AM gold sounds of Sonny & Cher)—or tricking the lovely Nancy into sleeping with him; it was always and equivocally all about Phil-The-Thrill.
"OH YEAH, DON'T DRIVE ON THE RAILROAD TRACKS"
Fans have pointed out the Buddhist principles of rebirth, or reincarnation—the practice centered on gaining merit and merit transfer, where rebirth is gained in the good realms, while avoiding rebirth evil realms.
Phil’s journey was self-centered, until he’d exhausted every resource—outside of actually becoming a decent human being. The adventurous, daredevil escapades eventually turned to blatant suicide attempts, as even an exciting, consequence-free life full of do-overs wasn’t worth living.
Love ultimately won out, as Phil did what so many other lesser men had done before him—cleaned up his act and learned how to make himself worthy for a woman he realized made him better and completed him.
All that to say, Rita was simply a perk for getting it right—actually getting it right was the true victory in this redemption story.
By the film’s end, Phil had become a wise old sage—reaching that place by way of experience, enlightenment and personal growth—but going through all previous life stages to get there; a know-nothing infant, an innocent child trying to figure things out, a rebellious teenager pushing back and an in-conflict adult seeking enlightenment, but still getting tripped up in their own flaws.
Many have tried to keep things light during quarantine and this COVID-driven year—joking about a Groundhog Day-like existence as we tried to accept this temporary new world we’ve hovered in for the better part of 2020.
All that to say, as many of us have lived the past almost-300 days in a bizzaro world-type existence—where would most of us fall in regards to the Phil Connors maturation and personal growth scale?
In a 2020 that has fallen somewhere between 10 and 10,000 years of unsettle—are we closer to the jaded weatherman living recklessly and in victim-mode, taking advantage of others and trying to manipulate the system?
"IT'S JUST STILL ONCE A YEAR, ISN'T IT?"Or has this purgatory year been utilized in a manner that we’re ready come out the other side like the ivory-tinkling, ice sculpting, French-speaking, selfless and evolved being Phil grew into?
Unlike Phil, February 3rd will eventually arrive for all of us—whether we’ve progressed and grown as individuals, or not. There aren't any boxes we much check to ensure some form of normal takes back over, eventually.
What a waste all this forced down time would been to not take something valuable from it—but much like Phil's long journey, there is still time for redemption.
Just because the calendar page will turn in a matter of days, the early months of 2021 will probably feel eerily similar to all things 2020—unlike years passed, where just the start of a new year immediately felt fresh.
While many of us might be wary of resolutions this new year—I mean, just look where those 2020 best intentions got us—it's still undoubtedly a fresh start for all over the coming weeks and the ideal time to get our affairs in order.
There is no shortage of Groundhog Day-inspired perspective on the Internet, which we've whittled down to these kernels of Murray movie wisdom.
In no particular order:
— In a year where politics dominated the headlines and good folks on both sides of the aisle found themselves at odds, a reminder to be kind to others, even if we disagree.
Ned Reyerson sure as heck-fire came off uber-annoying in his interactions with Phil, yet Phil—cynic that he was—played along with the goofy insurance salesman and made him feel good.
There's something to be said for showing a little kindness and grace—and let's be honest, we as people are thought to be at our most-attractive when being kind, so you'll have that going for you—which is nice.
— Wisdom can be found anywhere and everywhere—often time in the simplest of places. Just because we might fancy ourselves "above" someone—be it through career success, a stable upbringing, or as simply as big city culture, versus small town living—there is much to learn from others who might be living more grounded and simplistically. Don't be a snob; learn what you can, where you can.
— After almost of a year of being shut-in, a reminder to expand your horizons as we inch back towards normalcy. Where it's easy to get caught up and complacent in our cliques and circles, there's something to be said for not just general kindness to strangers—but opening ourselves up to new people and new experiences.
— No better time than now to reevaluate what we want out of our lives. Our collective worlds don't often slow down at the level they currently have—so make the most of this forced reset.
Bill was the star of Groundhog Day, but we are the stars of our life's stories. Some of us might still be in the first act, others might be in the final one—seeking redemption and victory before the credits roll.
Regardless of where one is at in the journey, the plot is always ripe for a positive turn. Control, as best you can, where your story goes in 2021—and make it a page-turner.
— Find joy in the ordinary, as Rita explained she was when telling Phil what she wanted in a man. It wasn't about riches or out-of-reach dreams; she simply wants someone who was sensitive, present, not afraid to show emotions, who loved his mother—and wouldn't' be afraid of changing diapers.
Sometimes we shoot for the stars with unapproachable, shallow, temporary-happiness goals—opposed to focusing on the simple ones that can make our day-to-day lives so much more fulfilling. Point your desires in the right direction and let them fall into place.
— Einstein Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over, while expecting different results. For most of film, Phil is doing just that—repeating the same poor behavior, waking up shocked that he can't break the cycle.
Did Phil accept this? Sure, for a while—until he chose not to live that way anymore and started putting in the required work to change his path and outcome.
We as a people might tend to complain about our circumstances, while doing nothing to change them.
Upset we can't take off the weight, but not changing our diets or exercise habits. Struggling to accomplish our daily tasks, but not making a concerted effort to become more disciplined or processed individuals.
Motivational speaker and author Wayne Dyer is quoted as saying, "If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change." Try that on for size moving forward.
— ... all that to also say, cut yourself some slack—as we tend to be our own harshest critics. We certainly don't need to over-indulge like Phil in the diner, when realizing he could eat what he wanted with no repercussions—but we also don't want to over-obsess, either.
Sometimes it's good to indulge without being racked with guilt. Balance and moderation exist for a reason—get to know both well this coming year.
— Lastly, while Phil's sarcastic ways and quick quips made for a funny character on the big screen, that approach doesn't always translate well to real life. What we think comes across as humor, in reality can leave us looking jaded and cynical.
As Phil evolves, we realize the snappy comebacks were simply the defense mechanisms of a broken man and his flawed way of dealing with being unfulfilled.
Soon as he puts his focus on others, becomes a giver (instead of a taker)—and begins to change his life's purpose—the transformation is officially underway.
In closing, it was Phil's lament that remains the biggest takeaway; "Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn't one today."
If this year taught us anything, it's that there is no guarantee of tomorrow. This especially rings true for any who lost loved ones this year, longing for one more moment with someone near and dear.
The present is all we've got; focusing on now and finding a way to leave our imprint on each day like it could be our last.
Do your best to be that final act Phil Connors with 2021 on the horizon—as the world is already littered with too many, "I'm not going to live by their rules anymore" self-absorbed folk.
Try harder, be better, love bolder and reap the benefits. Our world thanks you in advance for your efforts.