The Movie “Groundhog Day”

Have you seen the movie “Groundhog Day”?

It is one of the learningful movies I have seen. Tonight I watched it again and suddenly I realized that its lessons are the same ones I wrote about in my previous blog post (Q18 about know-how and willing-to). Serendipity?

The movie is about a grouchy, cynical and egotistical TV announcer, Phil Connors (played by Bill Murray). Together with the TV cameraman, Larry, and the TV producer, Rita (played by Andie MacDowell), they made their annual trip to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to film the traditional Groundhog Day.

In the movie, Phil became mysteriously entrapped in time: he wakes up every morning to the same day, February 2, Groundhog Day. He was first confused, frustrated and then desperate. He destroyed the clock-radio that wakes him up exactly at 6 o’clock every morning of Groundhog Day, and the clock was good again the next morning which is again Groundhog Day. He stuffed himself with food to drown his desperation. He robbed a bank truck, bought a flashy car and dated women. He descended into depths of existential angst and desperation. Drunk, he crashed a car he is driving and landed himself in jail. In another day, he killed himself by driving a car over a cliff. But the next morning he woke up alive again, condemned to live the same day, Groundhog Day, meeting the same characters who do and say the same things they did and said yesterday. Phil tried different kinds of suicide, but failed to escape the time imprisonment. He felt a victim of life.

Then he tried to change his strategy. He shifted to learning new skills. Over countless days, he took piano lessons and eventually became a musician in a local dance hall. As days pass, he came to know almost everything about everybody in the town that he appears to people as omniscient and prescient. He knows exactly what people will say and the precise time a restaurant waiter will drop a pile of plates. He learned to speak French and studied Medieval French literature to impress Rita who he started to date. He learned ice sculpting and gifted Rita with a beautiful ice sculpture of her likeness. But every time he makes advances, Rita slaps him day after repeating day. He is no longer desperate, but he is still confused and frustrated. He knows so much yet he is unhappy.

The movie is an interesting illustration of learning: learning from life and learning how to make life choices.

Gradually, Phil shifted strategy: helping people, and making a difference for the world around him. He took pity on an old, sick and hungry tramp. He tried to feed and save him; he cried when he died anyway. He knew exactly where and when three old ladies would have a flat tire, and he was ready to help them with a jack and spare tire. He knew the precise time a boy would fall from a tree; he was there every day to catch him. In a restaurant, he saved a man chocking with food in his windpipe by giving him a Heimlich maneuver. He became the adored town hero of Punxsutawney. Celebration replaced cyncism. He has become a master of life.

He is less confused and frustrated. A surprised Rita, knowing how grouchy, cynical and egotistical Phil was, is taking a new genuine interest in him. Phil has learned to live life for a purpose, and he is beginning to become a happier person.

That was the missing key that freed Phil from the time prison… and that won the heart of Rita. He and Rita woke up one morning and the clock-radio was playing a different tune. It was February 3, the NEXT day after Groundhog Day! Finally he is FREE!

The lesson: know-how is not enough, willing-to is even more important.

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