Thoughts on Groundhog Day (and the Meaning of Life)

I’ve had this old review of Groundhog Day waiting around literally from the very first day I started the blog. I have held off on posting it until now because I felt like it needed more, a unique angle, to justify itself. Anyway, it just so happens that with 1) the renewed COVID casualties, 2) my extended family reneging on our Thanksgiving plans in order to avoid potential exposure, and 3) the Presidential election drama… well, I’ve been pretty depressed lately. This led to some existential musings on social media which I thought might serve as a worthy companion piece to this long-abandoned prompt.

My Reaction to Groundhog Day

I like the movie Groundhog Day. I feel like it speaks to all of us by condensing life’s struggles into a single, seemingly wasted day going through the motions. We’re all so preoccupied with being somewhere else, somewhere “better” that we don’t bother to enjoy what’s right in front of us. There’s that endless haze of pointless day-to-day living we all endure, just passing the time until we have something exciting on the horizon. Until, inevitably, there’s no time left to spare anymore and then the regrets pile on. In our youth we’re bombarded with messages about our limitless potential, in the end we imagine all the things we never got to accomplish in the short time we had. But in between those two extremes, each day blends into the other in one defeating, meaningless existence. It’s boring, it’s disappointing, it’s not what we dreamed being an adult, with all the freedoms in the world, would be like. So what do you do?

Obviously most of us–really all of us, at least at some point or another–are like Phil in the beginning. We’re careless, driven by ego, acting as though we’re too good for our surroundings rather than enjoying the moment. Perhaps this isn’t a perfect analogy, but I picture Phil’s first few Groundhog Days as a representation for most people’s childhood temper tantrums and early teen aloofness. It’s when you notice the repetitive tedium of life that one thinks they’ve suddenly got shit all figured out. In that cycle, you want to break free. Nihilism. Hedonism. Excitement from embracing life’s wild and primitive pleasures. Eating a whole table’s worth of food, chain smoking, car chases and seduction. That’s like the late teens, and twenty-somethings stage of selfish rebellion and pushing boundaries.

Some people never really progress beyond either of those two stages, and lead unfulfilling lives because of it. Others begin to mature a little and seek something deeper to give life real meaning. They want to forge a meaningful connection with another person at all costs–even if they must manufacture one. That’s the next cycle Phil goes through, trying to will someone into loving him, trying to create the “perfect moment.” But that’s a self-defeating goal too. What’s the point of basing your whole world, your own self-worth, on what one single person thinks? It’ll inevitably lead to disappointment when your true personality emerges, or their’s does, and you let each other down. And when you’ve put everything into one person and they fall short, it’s devastating. Then comes depression and apathy, because of the mixture of tedium, loneliness and now, heartbreak. For some people, this leads to thoughts of escaping our desolate existence. They desire to be free of all the worries and annoyances that come with living. Many have contemplated the act, a few go through with it. It’s really sad when that happens.

What they didn’t get the chance to experience, and what Phil did by sheer grace of the timeloop, is that feeling a person gets when they give up trying to make only themselves happy. Instead of seeking instant gratification or some idealized dream of perfection, you use your time to develop useful skills and expand knowledge. You make peace with the fact that life sucks and will always suck (at least to an extent) so you might as well stop wallowing in that fact and try to make it suck just a little bit less for the people around you. It’s those little efforts to help people here and there, combined with experiencing as much of what the world has to offer that will eventually imbue some kind of meaning in all the dreary madness. Phil wins Rita not by presenting a shallow reflection of her interests back to her, but by becoming the best version of himself he can be. He’s spent his time consistently improving himself and making connections among those around him.

I gotta say, I still think It’s a Wonderful Life is more emotionally uplifting by virtue of Capra’s film making ability and Jimmy Stewart’s acting. Nothing will ever top the visceral terror of the Pottersville sequence or the sentimental climax of Harry Bailey’s toast. But Groundhog Day is probably the most intellectually uplifting by virtue of its script and the ideological imperatives demonstrated therein.

Ultimately, what Groundhog Day is all about is making the most of every stupid, seemingly inconsequential day. That, as well as appreciating everyone you see before you. From the obnoxious high school “friend” to the smelly bum on the street to the disagreeable coworker. They may not be the people you imagined yourself rubbing elbows with when you planned out your idealized adult life years ago, but they’re in it nonetheless, and all you can do is make the most of it. You may be surprised by how cool some people are if given the chance.

My Moral Ethos

We’re all going to die. Probably sooner than you think. So live your best life, be your true self as long as you’re not hurting anyone. Be as nice as you can to the people you have around to be nice to. And just own it for as long as you can. Because at least it was here, and you chose honestly, abiding by your conscience and left the world in some way better than you found it. You can be proud knowing you made the most of the time we had. You have a record of proof denoting that you’d have done right by your fellow man continuing along the way you were heading. And you’d do right by your fellow man if given the opportunity to enact greater change.

That’s the moral code I live by, knowing that it’s probably too late to avoid environmental catastrophe. (And any hope we had left has evaporated forever with a 6 to 3 Supreme Court, the Five Eyes and the 1% having all the power.) If I’ve hurt anyone along the way, out of a neglect for your needs doing what I felt I had to in order to be myself, I’m very sorry–I hope you can forgive me. And if you feel you’ve done me wrong, its really okay. The best thing you can say to an apology is “hey, I like who I am now, and if your actions helped push me in that direction, it was all for the best.” It’s a cliche, but the best revenge really is living well.

Do As You Please, Just Have the Courage to Defend Your Own Choices

It’s better to be honest, make the choice to stand up for yourself and the people around you. If you succeed, you may know such glory as mankind has ever seen. You will be a Julius Caesar, living out your wildest delusions of grandeur for real. Even if you failed in many regards, you would still be like a TE Lawrence, inspiring art and decades of analysis. If you remained obscure, like a young person whose whole life played out for only a few family and neighbors to witness, your unique personality no doubt irretrievably altered the course of at least one other person all the same 🙂

The worst thing you can be is dishonest to yourself, betraying those around you…then you’re like Jenna Rink from 13 Going on 30 and leaving a legacy of regrets and hurt despite shallow pleasures as well as the manufactured appearance of personal success. If you’re too weak to stand up to defend yourself and those around you…you’ll be like Lucius Pinarius and forced to bear the consequences of that shameful decision for the rest of your life. You’ll have to face the reality that you failed, and chose a cowardly life of shameful submission to another person’s dominance rather than protect your family from the subjugation of an intruder’s will. You must ask yourself if you’d be willing to stand up and face harm or scorn for the sake of the people you’ve chosen to spend life with. If the answer is no, then you need to start seeking out people worthy of such strong devotion immediately and be good to them.

I say to you: friends, Romans, countrymen, do not surrender your dignity in the face of danger or ridicule. You must protect your personal honor even in the face of certain and impending doom.

Never Let the Important Things Go Unsaid…

If you were ever my friend and we haven’t spoken for awhile, know that you were still in my thoughts and I always wished you well. Even if we left things on an uncertain or outright sour note. If I wronged you, I’m very sorry and I hope I can earn your forgiveness someday. If you’re the person I ghosted, I don’t know how you reacted, maybe you were relieved, but if you felt hurt by that, I’m sorry. I honestly believed I was doing more harm than good and you’d be better off without me. If I held you at arm’s length, made you doubt your value or attractiveness because I did not reciprocate your advances, didn’t try harder to keep you in my life, it’s not out of some failure on your own part. I just honestly hated myself for a long time and didn’t feel like I was worthy of your love or friendship. If you wronged me, I forgive you–yes, even you, no matter how much your actions negatively impacted the course of my life.

If my political or philosophical beliefs seemed alienating to you, I am sorry for coming off so strongly. I just wanted to advocate for the polices I felt could make the world a better place. I wanted to record my thoughts, the eccentric and the straightforward, the popular and controversial, because I believe the unexamined life isn’t worth living. (Especially in these crazy times where, between COVID and climate change, we don’t know how much time we have left to be heard.) I thought I had a unique perspective to share and that it was my duty, along with everyone else’s, to record that so i wouldn’t be forgotten. I wanted to make other people who are different feel less alone, and push against the restrictive boundaries in the world by questioning authority, dogma and social norms. I thought to do so was to give everyone else the excuse to be a little bit weirder. I wanted to advocate for the obscure, like Femina Ridens, SMiLE and Just for Kicks, because if I put that much effort into something, I’d appreciate if others examine it too.

I know in the grand scheme of things, I was a footnote to most of you I’ve met. To most of my readers, I was a curiosity if not a freak. My work will probably be forgotten even quicker than To Kill in Silence. But, it was an honor to be a footnote in your lives, or a passing interest on your screens. I hope I served as a positive influence or at least a useful negative example. Even if I never get married, legally become Cassandra, experience DMT or finish my policy platform, that’s a small legacy I can be proud of.


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