Groundhog Day—The Movie and Buddhism

Before we get to that–Saturday April 29 through Monday May 1st, are the last FREE days to download Jumped by a Deadly Cholla on Amazon. Sample here.

Groundhog Day is truly one of our favorite movies. 

Let me explain.

We don’t watch it every year, but we did this February. For those of you (must be a few) who haven’t seen the 1993 film, Phil Connors, a Pittsburgh TV meteorologist, once again must cover the annual prognostication of Punxsutawney Phil, a groundhog in the eponymous town. Supposedly, if Phil (the groundhog, not Connors) sees his shadow on February 2nd, there will be six more weeks of winter.

In simple terms, Connors, played by Bill Murray (another of our favorites), is a jerk. It’s beneath him to do this gig again. He expects to ascend to a national spot soon. He looks down on the cameraman and his producer, played by Andie MacDowell. Spoiler alert—six more weeks of winter are coming, beginning with a blizzard that will force the three to stay in Punxsutawney overnight. A snowstorm that Connors was certain would miss the town.

The following day starts the déjà vu that has made the movie title a meme that more than echoes the French phrase. The bedside radio awakens Connors with the same Sonny and Cher song and byplay between two announcers. It’s Groundhog Day again and again, for days on end. For a while, Connors remains a jerk. He goes through a manipulative phase, depression, and more.

Ultimately, he becomes a kinder, compassionate man. The transformation illustrates what we Buddhists call “human revolution.” It’s a core principle of the Soka Gakkai—a Buddhist lay organization with 12 million members in 192 countries and territories. The phrase means changing one’s character for the better. It happens through engaging the Buddha nature we all have within. Compare Connors to George Bailey’s best version in It’s a Wonderful Life. Neither made their revolution of character through Buddhism. My wife and I have been members for forty-plus years, with excellent results—too many to relate here.

In real life (IRL for younger readers), Bill Murray reportedly is a jerk on movie sets—like some characters he played but eventually changed for the better. Consider the protagonists he portrayed in Groundhog Day and Scrooged. But it’s the illustration of human revolution that we cherish. Instead of blaming one’s circumstances or life on their the work or home environment (or birth, family, etc.), the Buddhist accepts that causes one made currently or in the past that produce misfortune (negative karma).

When we watched the Blu-ray this year, we viewed the bonus features for the first time. In one, Harold Ramis reported receiving countless letters from Buddhists about how much it reflected their practice—likewise, Jesuits and people of other faiths. A spiritual film, they all said. That wasn’t part of the script; it just turned out that way.

2 thoughts on “Groundhog Day—The Movie and Buddhism

  1. Interesting observation. I don’t know if I’ll call it Buddhism, but certainly people can have life changing experiences that wake them and change them for the better too. Perhaps then there’s a little Buddha in everyone’s nature. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Deb! The odd thing is that after watching this so many times, we checked out the bonus features–with the Harold Ramis commentary that a variety of people having expressed their viewed Groundhog Day as a spiritual movie.

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