As we roll into week four of coronavirus lockdown and The Inquirer’s “One Movie, One Philadelphia” project, the feeling that we’re all reliving the same day, ad infinitum, has no doubt intensified. So we wondered: Is there a movie that both captures that state of mind and — via the miraculous mechanism of laughter — provides insight into how to endure and possibly even improve?
Sure there is, provided we’re willing to expand the parameters of “One Movie, One Philadelphia” to include other regions of the state, specifically Punxsutawney. Call it “One Movie, One Pennsylvania.”
This weekend’s selection for everyone to watch from home and weigh in on is the 1993 Harold Ramis classic Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray as Phil, a narcissistic weatherman whose assignment to cover the annual ceremony at Gobbler’s Knob turns into a kind of purgatory wherein he is doomed to endlessly relive Feb. 2. (Watch it anytime this weekend, and comment here before midnight Sunday.)
We use the word purgatory advisedly — from the outset, the movie has attracted unusual interest from theologians who find in it an ecumenical, spiritual significance that complements this week’s religious observances.
In interviews, writer-director Ramis said he received a call on opening weekend back in 1993 that Hassidic Jews were picketing the movie in Santa Monica — not in protest, but with signs that indicated they were in sync with the movie’s implicit spiritual prompt: "Are we living the same day over and over again?”
That interest has continued unabated for 27 years. Just a few months ago, in the National Catholic Reporter, Mike Jordan Laskey wrote of how Murray’s Phil “confronts his fate with denial, frustration, gluttony, womanizing, despair, and ultimately, selfless compassion and kindness.” This, he noted, reflects the thinking of Jesuit priest Anthony de Mello: “Enlightenment is: absolute cooperation with the inevitable.”
Helpful words in repetitive times.
Of course Phil is also redeemed by love. His superficial attempts to seduce his beautiful producer (Andie MacDowell) ultimately morph into sincere affection. The insincere becomes the authentic: Act as if ye have faith, and faith will be given to you.
Ramis said that over the years he’s been buttonholed by enthusiastic Buddhists and Baptists (the 15th anniversary DVD has commentary from theologians across the board), and particularly understands how the movie appeals to people with his own Jewish upbringing.
“One reason Jews respond to that idea is that the Torah is read every year. You start at the same place in the same day, every Jew in the world reads the same portion every day. The Torah doesn’t change but every year we read it, WE are different our lives are different.” said Ramis, by way of explaining why the movie holds up to repeat viewing.
Ramis is quick to add: “I’m not comparing Groundhog Day to the Torah. It’s more entertaining than the Torah.”
As we watch this weekend during lockdown, we can chew on these religious ideas, or turn to more secular matters:
Is Ramis correct — does the movie hold up to repeat viewing? Where does Groundhog Day rank in the spectrum of Ramis/Murray collaborations? Where does it rank in the Murray canon?
Why doesn’t Andie MacDowell make more movies? And how is it possible that her daughter Margaret Qualley is already old enough to play one of the Manson girls in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood?
Time flies. Or at least, it used to.
Groundhog Day is easy to find on streaming, if you don’t already own it. Watch from home anytime this weekend, and add your comments here. We’ll highlight the best ones Monday. Let us know your reaction in the comments or on our Facebook or Twitter pages.