Redemptive! Or not.
Yesterday was the 2nd of February, the day we all gather with our families for the annual Groundhog Day feast (my wife’s groundhog recipe is the absolute best). After dinner, we sit around visiting, reminiscing about past Groundhog Days, and sing a few Groundhog carols. In the evening, we cap off the festivities with a viewing of the 1993 epic film, Groundhog Day—which brings me to the topic of this post.
I’m not one to look for redemptive themes in movies. Such themes, well done, are rare enough in intentionally Christian movies. I certainly don’t expect it from Hollywood. But there is a progression in Groundhog Day that—if I squint sideways and hold my mouth just right—seems almost gospelly.
I’m going to gloss over the details to keep spoilers at a minimum.
The main character, narcissistic primadonna weatherman Phil Connor (Bill Murray) finds himself stuck in a time loop, reliving the same day—Groundhog Day—over and over. It’s his fourth year covering an event he hates: the Groundhog Day festivities in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. He’s stuck, and he can’t get out, but realizes that he is also in a position in which he can do whatever he wants, without consequences. Whatever happens, he wakes up in the morning as though the previous day never happened. Being a narcissistic hedonist, he does just that. But things don’t go well for him. He despairs, and kills himself—several times, actually. As I said, each day erases and restarts the same day. To cut a long story short, he has an epiphany, turns his life around, becomes altruistic, breaks out of the time trap, and, we can presume, lives happily ever after.
It’s a great move. I recommend it.
So, what’s gospelly-redemptive about that? Death was the turning point. The birth of the new man requires the death of the old. Yes, that’s it. I told you I had to squint to see it. I had to brush aside a whole lot of other potential theological themes to pick out one possible truth out of a mish-mash of humanistic self-improvement. Of course what I’ve done is eisegesis. I’ve read into the story something that was never intended, to make it what I’d like it to be—which is what everyone does who tries to spiritualize secular stories.
I shared my observations with my son last night (carefully stipulating that I knew I was stretching the story). He had a different perspective. “Sounds more like purgatory to me,” he said.
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