I woke up to a number of faux-concerned Tweets about hearing Sonny and Cher’s I Got You, Babe. Thanks, Bill Murray, for this iconic film, but I could really care less about the little rodent…and his Southern counterpart, General Beauregard Lee. I just usually send the weather dog outside in the morning. If she comes back wet, it’s raining. If she won’t go out, it’s cold. I’m good with that.
But I do love the film. It’s funny, in that way that Bill Murray could issue a death sentence and it would sound funny. Maybe it’s the smirk. Delivery is everything in comedy, no?
Naturally there’s more to it than that. Murray’s character is a giant ball of ego. His arrogance is beyond off-putting; it clearly has made him a miserable person, disliked by his colleagues, and cause for his punishment to live groundhog day over and over again.
This punishment is really no punishment at all…it’s an opportunity for him to get the day right. He goes through a transformation, first, in anger and frustration at the crappy lot he has drawn in life, to relive this miserable day in a miserable town, then in an astonishing display of selfish hedonism, followed by a terrible period of despair when he attempts, over and over again, to kill himself.
Somewhere in that process he has an awakening when he glimpses the misery that lies outside of himself. He is moved by a homeless man that dies, in spite of his efforts to save him. It changes him in a profound way and he begins to live his day in the service of others.
I’m sure there are many well-written and thoughtful reviews of this film out there…a few, even, that would touch upon the religious themes inherent in the story. My contribution to the conversation is simple. It’s a story about intimacy. It’s about relationships.
Murray’s character, Phil, has no real interest in intimacy at the beginning, and while there are references to his desire for sexual encounters masking as intimacy, it is beyond that. It’s about making human connections. When the homeless man inspires compassion, we see a shift in the way he treats others, and it impacts the way he sees himself.
That’s one of my personal favorite themes, by the way, this struggle for authenticity and connection with others. I’ve sometimes thought that I live in my own Groundhog Day, entering the classroom day in and day out encountering the same condition, over and over again.
It’s depressing as hell. No wonder Phil takes a bath with a toaster — when conditions don’t change and I find myself doing the same things, saying the same things, getting the same outcomes, it can get me down.
And then there’s the moment of realization — that I am dealing with people. Human beings. It puts a new spin on claims to be pro-life. Easy to say when protecting a tiny, precious baby. A little harder when facing what I could casually and cruelly call the unloveable in our society, passing through my classroom as a number, a statistic, just a letter in a gradebook. And yet, I’m afforded the opportunity to face them over and over again until I change, like Phil.