While there are a ton of actual Christmas and Christmas-adjacent movies out there, the list of New Year’s movies is much, much shorter. So, rather than try to round up those, we’re just going to put it out there that our top pick for a New Year’s Eve movie this year is… Groundhog Day.
That’s right, we’re picking a movie that literally uses a different ‘holiday’ as the title. But hear us out- Groundhog Day is, in our opinion, one of the most topical things you could watch after almost 2 full years of dealing with a pandemic.
The movie follows Bill Murray as Phil Connors, a Philadelphia weatherman who finds himself in a small town to cover the emergence of ‘Punxsutawney Phil’, the local groundhog that supposedly tells people whether or not there will be six more weeks of winter. After his report, Phil (the human) is eager to get out of town, but a freak blizzard prevents travel, and he’s forced to stay the night. Cut to the next morning, when Phil finds himself waking up on Groundhog Day once more, to great confusion. Turns out, the guy has entered into a time loop, and has been forced to relive the same day over and over for no discernible reason. Here’s where things get really interesting.
As Phil tries increasingly desperate ways to pass the time and escape the time loop, he picks up a serious amount of hobbies, skills, and information about the town’s residents. The actual amount of time he spends in the time loop is unknown, but some estimates put it at around 4,500 days (or twelve and a half years). That’s conservative too- the director, Harold Ramis, estimated it to be more like 30 or 40 years.
Naturally, Phil starts to get a little loopy during his stay. Once he exhausts all of his more, uh, base desires, the movie takes a philosophical turn, as the writers loosely based his transformation on the ‘five stages’ of grief- denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. But that’s not our focus today, instead, we get to talk about a little bit of Greek mythology and contemporary philosophy (yay!).
For us, Groundhog Day is one of the best examples of Albert Camus’ ‘absurdist’ mindset captured on screen. Phil isn’t a great guy, sure, but he’s also not a terrible one, at least before he gets stuck in the time loop. Once he’s in there, though, he realizes that his actions are meaningless in the grand scheme of things, and that he’s powerless to change his circumstances. The best instance of this understanding? A later scene in the movie, where he says he’s ‘a god’ as opposed to ‘the God’. He might be powerful, but his power is, technically, irrelevant.
How does this tie into Greek mythology? Well, one of Camus’ most famous analogies was that of Sisyphus, a Greek king who managed to evade death and angered the gods. Ol’ Zeus thought up a devious punishment for Sisyphus- he was condemned to push a rock up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, for eternity. In many ways, Phil became Sisyphus while in the time loop. No matter the way that he pushed the rock up the hill, that thing came rolling back down the next day- he was stuck in a neverending cycle of effort and ‘defeat’.
But was it truly defeat? Here’s where absurdism has an answer. For Camus, the only way to escape a Sisyphean existence (effort and renewed effort) was to imagine Sisyphus as ‘happy’ in that effort. By the end of the movie, this is the point that Phil gets to- he has accepted his circumstances, and although he is stuck in the time loop, he finds meaning in his actions because they bring happiness and meaning to himself and others. It’s a very poetic lesson, considering this was, you know, a 1990s comedy.
So, we think that even without the happy ending (which happens in the movie, and will happen in real life for the vast majority of us), Groundhog Day offers a different way to look at life right now. Sure, we might be stuck inside, facing the same day over and over as the seasons change, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find happiness in it, and bring happiness to those around us (virtually or physically) at the same time.
Anyway, we’ve been sitting at our kitchen table, doing our work, and feeling a lot like Phil these past 18 months or so. And with a new year dawning, we think it’s high time to watch that movie again.