Personal redemption holds the key to enlightenment

Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, the detestable, egotistical weatherman in Groundhog Day. The 1993 film shows Murray repeatedly experiencing a single day multiple times. Although the movie belongs to the comedy genre, a substantial number of religious scholars regard the film as a kind of below-the-surface Buddhist classic. They believe the film depicts the endless loop of death and consequent rebirth. Connors breaks the cycle via personal redemption. The metaphor can belong to any religion, Buddhism, Christianity or even in secular thought. The concept can be applied to how a person spends his or her every day.

It is not surprising that Groundhog Day has become a cult classic. It is a movie which makes people laugh and a movie that provides snapshots of life’s many meanings. Critics knowledgeable about Buddhist philosophy have described the movie as “Buddish.” Harold Ramis, the director of the film coined this term. According to him, this one word summed up his entire belief system. He was influenced by Buddhist concepts as one of his close friends and mother-in-law were Zen Buddhists. He described the religion as a simple and memorable one, with no requirement of articles of faith. Buddhism, he claims, is totally humanistic from every way.

According to Dan Arnold of Divinity School, although the concept of having repeated chances towards life could seem like a blessing, the “Samsara” concept in Buddhism could actually be nearer to punishment. The philosophy professor of religions pointed out that in the Indian religious sphere, continuous rebirth is a problem that should be solved. The idea is that the rebirth concept is actually suffering.

In Groundhog Day, the sarcastic Phil Connors repeatedly wakes the same day. Phil, a groundhog, and the weatherman’s namesake sees the man’s shadow, and scurries back into his burrow, implying six weeks of winter to come. Connors get frustrated by going through the same day. He desperately wants to go somewhere and find new circumstances. His escape strategies included different scenarios. The character goes after sex, and sometime later that gets boring too. Engaging in crime comes next and that also becomes boring. All other options, drinking, suicide, and therapy were also explored.

The film mirrors Buddhist practices. In real life, we follow near identical schedules. Although the routine is the same, each moment is unique. It is important to note that Phil Connors breaks the samsara cycle when he does not try anymore. This enables him to enjoy true participation and true enjoyment. Every moment of his day becomes meaningful.

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