Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Movie: Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day is a clever 1993 fantasy starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell. It was written and directed by Harold Ramis. It is now acknowledged to have been underestimated when it was first released, and its stature has grown over the years. It is the Bear's favorite movie, and might be Pope Francis', too, if he ever saw it.

Bill Murray plays an obnoxious weatherman ("the talent") who is sent to cover Groundhog Day in Punxutawney, Pennsylvania, an assignment he feels is beneath him, and refuses to take seriously. He is abusive toward his cameraman and producer, and unpleasant toward everyone whom he meets. His bad day is turned into a disaster by a snowstorm that traps him in Punxutawney.

The next morning, the clock radio blares Sonny and Cher singing "I Got You Babe." The announcer's patter is identical to the previous morning. Soon Murray is forced to admit that he is stuck in Groundhog Day, being madly awakened every morning by Sonny and Cher and experiencing the same sequence of events.

It is not clear how long Murry is trapped in Groundhog Day. But it is long enough to learn just about everything about everybody in the town. At first he puts the knowledge to evil use, stealing from an armored car while the crew is distracted, seducing a woman, etc.

Eventually, he grows jaded by his hedonistic pursuits, and repeatedly tries to commit suicide, in sometimes impressive ways. But the next morning, the radio blares "I Got You Babe" and he must live the same day again. He is a broken record, repeating the same meaningless phrase over and over. What had seemed to offer so many possibilities has become Hell, or at least an endless meditation on the Book of Ecclesiastes.
And I applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to the sons of men to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun; and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.
(Ecclesiastes 1:13-14 RSV)

Inevitably, he turns his romantic intentions toward Andie MacDowell, who plays his producer. But he still doesn't get it. He uses his infinite time and patience to study her, to learn everything about her, so he can impress her with their common interests. But she smells a rat. There are some things you can't fake, no matter how many do-overs you get. The more desperate he becomes, the further she drifts away from him.

A turning point comes when he goes to "the periphery" and tries to save the life of a very sick homeless man. Despite all his efforts, the old guy dies on him. Every time. But, surely, there is some good he can accomplish?

He improves himself, for example learning to play the piano. After one lesson on countless days -- or, rather, countless lessons on the same day -- he becomes a virtuoso (much to his teacher's surprise, since for her it is his first lesson).

Murray is transformed into a genuinely nice guy, more interested in helping others than pursuing MacDowell, whom he seems to forget. For example, instead of his previous sarcastic reports on the groundhog, he delivers a lyrical meditation on winter, quoting Chekov, and enthralling all the other news crews.

He becomes the town's guardian angel, knowing just where and when to fix flats and save lives. Eventually, by the end of each day, he is a local celebrity, loved by all.

That's as far as the Bear will go. Groundhog Day is a kind of Pilgrim's Progress for our day. Murray must learn to avoid temptations, traps and potholes -- often by falling into them -- and develop the simple virtue of putting others first. This is the only way he is able to conquer despair and begin to enjoy each day he is dealt, even if it is the same day. Indeed, virtue is its own reward. It is one of those rare movies that is both funny and thoughtful. You see a lot of it coming, but it still manages to charm.

The the premise is brilliant, the writing is witty, MacDowell is winsome, and Murray is in top form as he slowly transforms from a self-centered jerk to a likable servant. It's also very funny.

The Bear adds this to his list of Catholic-friendly movies. It is well worth a watch.


  1. The Rom Com is my favourite genre and this is one of the greats of that genre. Most great movies are about redemption.

    Original sin and redemption are two of the most powerful concepts for understanding the world. The first explains why people (including and especially me) screw up all the time and the second that we can do something about it and encourages us to do so.

    1. Not sure I remember you posting before. Anyway, welcome to the woodlands.

    2. Thank you Bear.

      By way of background, after a couple of years of charitable rationalisation of Pope Francis’ comments and actions I have just woken up to the fact that Pope Francis is a strange one. I now feel a bit like the Gene Wilder character in Blazing Saddles: “we're awake... but we're very puzzled”.

      I’ve read everything you’ve posted for the last two months and enjoyed it immensely, but I don’t comment much. I read the sites you list and a lot of others besides, probably a couple of hours each day. I became a convert in the mid-seventies. The Opus Dei priest started me on the Catechism of the Council of Trent. I didn’t join them, but I have remained friends with many Opus Dei members and they are great people. Their services are always dignified. Their appears to be a good deal of animus between Trads and Opus Dei, which I don’t fully understand. From what I gather Opus Dei members have some sort of oath of loyalty to the Pope and they squirm a bit when I say what I really think about this Pope. (I can’t wait to catch up with an OD friend who I know loathes Luther). From that overall perspective I’d offer the following comments on the Trad scene in general:

      • Nailing your foot to the floor is great advice but nevertheless a painful exercise requiring more patience than I may have.
      • I haven’t written off the Sedevacantists completely. Pope Francis is the best friend they have ever had.
      • But I don’t see a way back for them. They may be victims of their own uncompromising logic.
      • Fr. Anthony Cekada’s videos on “Work of Human Hands” are great. Understanding what VII did to the liturgy has changed my view on the Tridentine Mass.
      • I’ve found a Catholic Byzantine rite liturgy as a halfway house.
      • Tradcast is delicious fun and sounds much better at 1.9x speed on my podcast player.
      • Ann Barnhardt is mad but in a good way. Ditto Hilary White.
      • Mundabor and Vox Cantor aren’t mad. They are a little OTT, but only a little.
      • Rorate and Fr Z are classy Trad bloggers. Also 1P5.
      • Mahound is great.
      • Fetzen Fliegen is not only a great expression, almost onomatopoeic in English, it has good articles.
      • I respect what the Catholic Culture people are trying to do.
      • There are a lot of borderline hucksters out there.
      • I understand why Michael Voris thinks it is counterproductive to attack the Pope but I can’t help myself. (Is he Opus Dei?)
      • Pewsitter is essential reading. Before I found that I was even more confused.

      So there you go. This blog is my favourite and the “nail your foot to the floor” approach is about where I am at now but I feel very volatile. Being deeply disturbed about people and things you really care about will do that.

      [I don’t mind if this does not get published. It is a bit rambling and not really on topic. I don’t comment a lot as I sometimes misread the conversation and often get taken the wrong way. And I am very confused right now.]

    3. Welcome to the Trad World. You must add "Aka Catholic" to your daily diet. Mr Verrechio leads the charge with his band of guest contributors. He allows the Sedes lots of space in his com box, but his "paw" is firmly nailed to the floor.

    4. One overarching theme of Mr Verrechio's is that nothing will be fixed in the Church or society until the Kingship of Christ is firmly and unabashedly proclaimed.

    5. The Bear likes trads (mostly), but often wonders why they like him, being a plain ol' Roman Catholic in a "Novus Ordo" parish. I think what we share is a horror of what the Church is teaching and neglecting to teach. Where we diverge is that the Bear is not wedded to the EF.

    6. I can't be wed to the TLM as I have very limited access. I do believe the Novus Ordo valid. I'm more of a Trad Wannabe.

    7. My dream is that Vatican II will be rescinded forever.

    8. Thanks for the akaCatholic tip,

      I guess I'm a Trad Wannabe too. My wife wants me to drop the whole thing but I can't look away from the Francis trainwreck. Also the extra reading is giving me new insights into the faith and my own shortcomings.

  2. Yes Bac Prin,

    That's a great observation. Do you think those steeped in heresy get the concept of redemption? Should be engraved on every heart, but so many seem to have no inkling of it.

    1. I think everyone can view can understand it on the level of "learning lessons," and "the magic of true love." But I think a Catholic gets a lot more out of it. I don't believe the late Harold Ramis was Catholic. I read where he was surprised that the film generated so much religious comment. I think every religion has put their spin on it. I even heard an occultist explain it in terms of reincarnation; we keep repeating lessons until we learn them. What were you doing associating with an occultist, Bear? That is a story for another day. Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future. -- Oscar Wilde.

      I like to think of movies like this as beginners' lessons in Christianity. It does tell a worthwhile tale, and people will be better for understanding it. Perhaps it will leave them hungry for more.

  3. I think Muslims reject a Christian world view. Redemption takes a profound creaturely awareness that God is Love.

    1. No, Muslims do not get redemption. They must simply appease a distant autocrat by following certain rules. Allah does not love. He is the solitary spirit of the desert who enslaves people.

      What would a Muslim make of Groundhog Day? I don't know. Perhaps if she had imbibed Western culture, i.e. was bad Muslim, they might appreciate it.

      Our redemption starts with the fact that we are sinners, slaves to the world, the flesh and the devil. Jesus' death "bought" us out of all of that, the meaning of "redemption." And of course, that is the missing cog in Groundhog Day. It can point in the general direction of redemption, in a purely human way. But by dropping clues, the popular media can do a good work. The more modest lessons of unselfishness, sincerity, and human love are strongly presented.

  4. Well put. All the more reason the Pope's syncretic video is so repulsive.

  5. I confess it is one of my favourite films too, Bear.

    'Catholic' it may be in some stretch of the imagination, but Bill Murray seems to redeem himself without benefit of any religion, Catholic or otherwise. If memory serves, there was no priest, minister, church, etc. in evidence in the entire film.

    The Pennsylvania Polka and Sonny and Cher wrote this Gospel. Even so great fun. My favourite Penna. based film has always been "The Deer Hunter".

    1. Not Catholic, but in the "Catholic-Friendly" category where I put movies like Ikiru. You can find elements of or clues to Catholic truths, but incompletely in a mainstream movie.

    2. So true, Bear. I suppose "Rocky" was 'Catholic' in some respects too, and, to my mind, so was "The Godfather III".

  6. I went to a beautiful Solemn Mass (EF) tonight for Candlemas. I only knew it was the Feast of the Presentation and the official final day of the Christmas season. Take down the holly & ivy...
    This is a very cool thing. There was the Blessing of the Candles, Distribution of the Candles while antiphons & psalms were sung, a procession with the lit candles around the church with this antiphon: Adorn thy bridal-chamber, O Sion, and welcome Christ the King: with loving embrace greet Mary who is the very gate of heaven; for she bringeth to thee the glorious King of the new light... Then the Nunc Dimittis of Simeon. The altar was incensed and Mass began. With a Gloria! We sang O Sanctissima at the end.
    So I learned a bit about Candlemas here:http://churchyear.net/candlemas.html
    Why am I telling you this? Candlemas is the original day for predicting weather which morphed into Groundhog Day!
    "If Candlemas be fair & bright,
    Come winter, have another flight;
    If Candlemas brings clouds& rain,
    Go winter, and come not again."

    1. I luv Groundhog Day too AND I also attended for the first time the Candlemas Feast of the Purification at an independent chapel. The candles, the priest, explained, must be 100%beeswax as bees are considered "clean" animals in scripture. We processed outside with candles while singing antiphons.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. I am trying to say that is very interesting, about Candlemas turning into Groundhog day. Who knew!

  7. Bill Murray commented on the ew mass vs the Latin mass.

    from The Guardian:
    His parents were Irish Catholics; one of his sisters is a nun. This conspicuous religion adds to his broad church appeal (there’s a citation from the Christian Science Monitor on his golfing memoirs). You don’t need to ask if his faith is important to him. He talks about how 19th-century candidates risk not getting canonised because the church is keen to push ahead with the likes of John Paul II and Mother Teresa. “I think they’re just trying to get current and hot,” he smiles.

    One new saint he does approve of is Pope John XXIII (who died in 1963). “I’ll buy that one, he’s my guy; an extraordinary joyous Florentine who changed the order. I’m not sure all those changes were right. I tend to disagree with what they call the new mass. I think we lost something by losing the Latin. Now if you go to a Catholic mass even just in Harlem it can be in Spanish, it can be in Ethiopian, it can be in any number of languages. The shape of it, the pictures, are the same but the words aren’t the same.”

    Isn’t it good for people to understand it? “I guess,” he says, shaking his head. “But there’s a vibration to those words. If you’ve been in the business long enough you know what they mean anyway. And I really miss the music – the power of it, y’know? Yikes! Sacred music has an affect on your brain.” Instead, he says, we get “folk songs … top 40 stuff … oh, brother….”

    1. Another reason to like Bill Murray. Although his personal life has been a mess; seemingly an occupational hazard for Hollywood types. We watched "A Very Murray Christmas," and that was cute. In 2014 he came out with "Saint Vincent," which I haven't seen. He's a cultural icon whose on-screen persona seems to have blended with real life. (Like commandeering a golf cart and taking it for a joyride.) He has aged well, and adapted his roles accordingly.

  8. Thanks Bear. Good meditation anytime but especially before lent.

  9. I'm not crazy about Andy McDowell for some reason but she was kind of cute in this movie. I also rather liked her in "Michael" with John Travolta. What are your thoughts on that movie? But yes, "Groundhog Day" is definitely on my "will watch over and over again" list. Bill Murray cracks me up just standing there with a straight face and saying absolutely nothing. :)

    1. Honestly, I thought Andie MacDowell was the weak link in the movie. I look at her and I see Revlon. Maybe it was the way the movie was put together, where we see just blips of her, while we get a lot of Bill Murray. It would be hard to establish much of a character, other than "nice" in the limited time she had onscreen.

      I don't think I saw Michael.

    2. Yeah, she was the weak link in "Groundhog Day". I watch it for Bill Murray and the overall premise and humor. Same goes for "Michael"...I watch it for John Travolta who I just can't seem to NOT like, no matter his personal life. The premise is silly and not Catholic, of course, but it is a funny movie. Travolta plays "Michael", a crude but irresistible angel sent down from Heaven to aid us poor creatures. Some very funny scenes and some very poignant scenes. Recommended.

  10. Bear, you are remarkable and seemingly never miss a pop culture beat. How many 50-something men recall that Andie McDowell was once the face of Revlon? Perhaps you are the original metrosexual? Andie's was not my favourite Revlon face. I loved Lauren Hutton. That space between her front incisors was ultra cute.

    1. Human females' habit of applying paint to their faces has always been a source of endless fascination to the Bear. (Bears and makeup don't mix.) Cedar Cove is one of his favorite shows.

  11. I never ever leave the house without mascara and lipstick on. I call foundation bondo.
    And , of course, you know the verb for applying makeup while driving is 'farding.' Growing up in Ga, putting makeup on was called 'painting the barn.' I enjoy being a girl!!

    But when I think of Andi I only think of 4 Weddings and a Funeral.

    Seattle Kim

  12. Sorry Bear- but you have some competition. In my book of course there is no contest. It's from the Dirty Old Gray (?)Lady, whose pages I rarely frequent for obvious reasons. The title of the article is "Groundhog Almighty" and discusses religious significance of the movie to varied religious perspectives. Best quote: "The groundhog is Jesus". Go to consultant for all things Catholic: Fr James Martin SJ. Religion given least text space: Uhhh...Catholicism with a single paragraph of 3 sentences, and the first is Fr. Martin's credentials.
    Enjoy if you must.

    1. That was a kind of dumb article. And factually incorrect. He did not "get the producer into bed." The movie made it clear that they both fell asleep. They fool around a bit in the morning, but it is far from clear they had sex.

  13. I hope you do more posts on movies. Or somebody on the Catholic side does....Now I want to see Groundhog Day. Never did. I gave up on Hollywood so long ago. I have to completely research a film before I will see it! Tired of being insulted...or worse. At one point, when I was making my way back to being Catholic, I realized I had been sitting through lots of soft porn. I was watching 'Ghost' with my little 11-12 yr old nephew. Really uncomfortable! those lurid scenes where she is pulling up the wet clay on the potters wheel! Yikes! Movies were such a big part of family visits, and conversation in social settings. "Oh- you have to see...." Those conversations get me in trouble now. Most recently about Philomena. (Phullalies) Didn't get into fisticuffs but it got my Irish up.

    Last night I looked up 'The Miracle'. I saw that movie as a little girl and was so impressed! I remember how Our Lady took the place of the postulant who left the convent to find the British soldier she fell in love with. She finally came back knowing this was her true vocation.It's a beautiful story with Carrol Baker
    (the postulant believe it or not) and Roger Moore. 1959. It was overshadowed at the time because Ben Hur and The Nun's Story all came out that year. Imagine 3 very religious movies at the same time! That was when there was the Legion of Decency and a movie could be rated 'condemned'!
    I highly recommend 'The Miracle'. It is set against the Napoleonic Wars in Spain.

  14. I have yet to see Groundhog Day, but will look for it online (just checked Netflix and they only have the DVD, waaahhh).

    I love Kurosawa's movies! Throne of Blood is one of my favorites, Mifune's acting is glorious and it's a Japanese version of Macbeth! What's not to love? I haven't seen Ikiru in a long time, I liked it ok in high school but would probably appreciate it more now.

    As for some of my favs : Pan's Labyrinth, The Thin Red Line, O Brother Where art Thou?, Silver Linings Playbook, A.I., and Valhalla Rising. Not sure how Catholic they are but they've all spoke to me in some way or another.

    Definitely going to also check out that old black and white Joan of Arc movie, my thanks to everyone and to the Bear for all the recommendations!


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