“Phil: What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing you did mattered?
Ralph: That about sums it up for me”
Part One – The Abyss
Recently, I cut out a ton of distractions like YouTube and video games.
I knew the aftermath wasn’t going to be pretty. For a long time, I had been using these things to avoid something. I wasn’t certain what it was but I knew that it wasn’t good.
It was the dragon in the cave. A demon in the labyrinth. The leviathan swimming in the depths.
And it came out of hiding last week.
Hitting me like a ton of bricks, I sunk. My mind was sucked into a black hole of self-loathing thoughts and painful ruminations. I felt empty. Void. Things suddenly felt meaningless. I attempted to fake it and keep it together but there was no doubt that for a reason unknown to me, I was being swallowed. Like a python gorging on a deer an inch at a time, something had a hold of me and it wasn’t letting me go until it was done with me.
At my lowest point, when even Age Of Empires and Netflix failed to soothe me, I decided to go deeper within and look for answers.
Opening my journal at 2am and staring at the blank page, I had no clue what to write so I decided to try something pretty bizarre.
I asked myself for help.
“I’m not sure what’s going on with me but I need help and I’d be grateful if you could point me in the right direction. What do I do?”
And the answer that came up was:
“Watch Groundhog Day”
Part Two – Who is The Big Baddie?
Throughout history, stories have served to impart important life wisdom across generations.
Broadly speaking, stories come from what we learn as a species. If we lose our stories, we lose most of what we have learned. This is why our ancestors placed such importance on being able to tell stories.
In every story there is a big baddie. Something or someone the hero has to overcome in order to get the gold or to save the world.
We no longer face the literal predators, beasts and serpents of our environment the big baddie is still very much alive.
The question is, what is it?
Here is where the movie Groundhog Day (hilariously starring Bill Murray) answers this question beautifully.
Where the story begins, we meet Phil Connors. A weatherman floating his way through life with a childishly indifferent attitude. He resentfully accepts the the task of covering the story of a bizarre local tradition of Groundhog Day in the US town of Punxsutawney with a new assistant, Rita, whom he falls for immediately.
When he wakes up at 6:00am on Groundhog Day, he becomes stuck in a time loop where he is doomed to repeat the same day for eternity, rendering everything he does completely & utterly meaningless.
I believe this movie gives us a powerful answer to the question posed in this section.
The Big Baddie of today doesn’t exist outside out there.
It exists within.
The big baddie of life emerges when we open our eyes. We see life’s suffering in it’s fullest intensity. We see the chaos. We see the possibility that it is all completely meaningless. We know that one day we will die. We are no longer naïve.
This is what the time loop in the movie represents. His eyes have been opened and now he must overcome the meaninglessness and suffering of existence.
The question is, when we open our eyes in this way, what do we do?
Part Three – The Heroic Journey
Phil Connors tries everything.
Revelling in the lack of consequences for his actions, he joyrides, he binge eats at the local diner and gets drunk. He tells everyone what he thinks of them and even punches an annoying insurance salesman in the face.
His attempts to overcome the meaninglessness of life through impulsive pleasure seeking fail, sending him into a nihilistic downward spiral, culminating in the choice to finally end his life, which doesn’t work.
After finding no redemption in breaking the spell, he is finally forced to accept his fate. This represents a turning point where he begins his heroic journey towards breaking the time loop.
It is through his actions during this part of the movie where we can find inspiration and direction in battling the big baddie of life.
There are four things he must do in order to break the time loop:
1 – He accepts his fate.
“I wake up every day, right here, right in Punxsutawney, and it’s always February 2nd, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Like Phil Connors before the time loop and like me trying to distract myself using social media, we cannot live virtuous, meaningful and fulfilling lives before we accept our circumstances with open eyes.
2 – He decides to help reduce the suffering of others.
Once we accept the suffering and nihilism of our own existence, we unlock the possibility of a deeper compassion for the suffering of others and a maybe a desire to help.
Service to others is where the deepest meaning can be found in our own lives. Realising this, Phil Connors decides to make the lives of those around him better, in great ways and small.
3 – He learns to live in the moment.
Accepting that each day will repeat for eternity, he has no choice but to find satisfaction in the day itself, learning to play the piano and creating beautiful ice sculptures.
He does this, not to get to some point in the future (as this is not an option) but for it’s own sake. Most of us are so possessed with a desire to reach an imaginary point in the future that we become numb to the joys of the moment.
A way to transcend the suffering of existence is to find salvation in the only place is can be found. In the present moment. This can be practiced in many ways, such as through developing a skill or practicing gratitude.
4 – He learns unselfish love.
Initially he tries to win Ritas love through cheap tricks.
By this point he’s still spiritually immature and Rita rejects him because of this. As the film progresses and as Phil adopts a more heroic approach to life, he learns to appreciate and love Rita for who she is, as opposed to what she can offer him.
This point represents the final transcendence of Phils selfish nature, where he no longer lives only for himself, but for the love, service and appreciation of others.
It is through this final change in Phils character that he proves himself worth of Ritas love, he finally breaks the time loop and the movie reaches it’s conclusion.
After watching this movie, I felt rejuvenated and renewed. I had sunk deeply into the abyss in much the same way as Phil Connors did and emerged from the depths with new insights.
I will leave you with this beautiful quote from the movie that wonderfully captures it’s life affirming essence:
When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. But standing here among the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn’t imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter.
– Phil Connors, Groundhog Day (1993)