Harold Ramis, Danny Rubin – Groundhog Day and New Year’s Resolutions
It is New Year’s Day and, like many Americans, I’m reviewing last year’s resolutions. Have I made any progress? Why am I losing and gaining back the same twenty-five pounds. Why are this year’s resolutions to improve my relationships, my physique, my Spanish, my guitar playing, my painting and my writing virtual carbon copies of last year’s resolutions? What do I have to show for the last year of my life? Whenever I chastise myself in this way, my favorite films of all time, Groundhog Day, comes to mind. I have watched Groundhog Day countless times since its release in 1993. Co-written by Harold Ramis and Danny Rubin and based on a story by Danny Rubin, it is Harold Ramis’ directorial masterpiece.
Most writer’s know the “Hero’s Journey,” the monomythical path most fictional heroes travel chronicled in Joseph Campbell’s Hero of a Thousand Faces and amplified by Christopher Vogler in The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers. Groundhog Day represents a classic and successful adherence to these principles with beautiful emphasis on the transformational experience of the main character, Phil Connors. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Bill Murray played Phil Connors, a misanthropic Pittsburgh TV weatherman who hated his assignment to cover the annual Groundhog Day festivities in Punxsutawney. Trapped in Punxsutawney by a snowstorm, Connors finds himself waking up day after day at 6AM to the clock-radio on his nightstand playing "I Got You, Babe" by Sonny & Cher, and reliving the same day over and over.
Quickly he realizes only he can remember what happened on previous trapped days, for everyone else it is as though that day did not exist. Free to act without consequence, he lets his inner demons run wild. Then he despairs that nothing he does has any lasting effect and tries repeatedly to kill himself. His relationship with news producer Rita, played sweetly by Andie McDowell, makes him re-examine his life and, like Helen Hunt did to Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets, she inspires him to become a better man. He uses his time trapped in his one day to improve, learning to play the piano, speak French and to learn all the minutia of the lives of the Punxsutawney townspeople. Some viewers estimate he spends ten years or more improving himself and trying get his one day exactly right. Still he cannot escape his fate. Finally, he absorbs the lesson that not only must he do good things, he must do them for the right reasons. This lesson transforms the way he interacts with the townspeople and Rita. He wins her heart (and her bod in bed – a prize denied him when he sought it for the wrong reasons) and he wakes up a new man on a new day.
On New Year’s Day it is easy to wake up feeling like Phil Connors, like you are covering the same ground over and over with the goal of making yourself a better you, and never getting it quite right. I’m not going to lose a lot of sleep over it however. I’ve decided that the life is about living my own Mythic Journey. Being in the moment, enjoying the journey brings its own joy, not necessarily achieving every goal set.
I have my own inspiration to become a better man in my bride of 41 years (as of December 27th). Her simple solution for that weight I keep gaining and losing is not letting me buy any new trousers. When my thirty four inch waists get snug, they become a constant reminder to do something about it that works. That she has kept the same wonderful figure she had when I met her inspires me as well.
As for the rest of my New Year’s resolutions, they are simply guides, helping me set priorities and make decisions about what to do each day. God is in the doing.
Have a wonderful New Year.