GROUNDHOG DAY (1993)
PHILOSOPHICAL ISSUES: Free will, fate
CHARACTERS: Phil (Bill Murray), Rita (Andie MacDowell), Larry (Chris Elliot), Ned (insurance salesman), Nancy (temporary love interest)
OTHER FILMS BY DIRECTOR HAROLD RAMIS: National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), Multiplicity (1996), Analyze This (1998), Analyze That (2002)
SYNOPSIS: A self-consumed TV weatherman from Pittsburgh, Phil goes to Punxsutawney to report on the famed groundhog residing there. His new producer Rita and long-time cameraman Larry accompany him. A snow storm prevents them from leaving, and, the next day Phil discovers that he is reliving the previous day. As the same day repeats countless times, Phil reacts to the situation in various ways, first becoming depressed and eventually making the best of the situation. He continually tries to court Rita, but is rebuffed each time. When Phil finally transforms into an altruistic renaissance man, Rita falls for him, and the day stops repeating.
1. The Stoic philosopher Epictetus stated the following: “Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.” What kind of actions were within Phil’s control, and which were not?
2. The Stoic solution to the problem of acquiring happiness is to resign oneself to fate and limit one’s desires. What was Phil’s solution?
3. In the bowling alley, Phil asks two locals, “What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and every day was exactly the same and nothing that you did mattered?” One guy replies, “That about sums it up for me.” Assuming that one’s life is very repetitive, why would the Groundhog-Day-experience prove frustrating?
4. Outside the bowling alley Phil asks the same two locals “What if there were no tomorrow?” One guy answers “That would mean there will be no consequences, there will be no hangovers, we could do whatever we wanted.” In Plato’s Republic, a character named Glaucon describes a mythological ring that makes the wearer invisible, and he speculates that wearers of the ring would thereby do whatever they wanted. From this Glaucon concludes that “the actions of the just would be as the actions of the unjust; they would both come at last to the same point.” In the Groundhog-Day-experience, would the lines between justice and injustice be equally blurred, as Glaucon suggests?
5. In one scene Phil is dead in the morgue; Rita and Larry are also there identifying his body. This suggests that Phil’s Groundhog-Day-experience is not simply in his head, but happening to everyone else as well. The only difference between his experience and that of other people is that he remembers things. Would the fatalistic theme of the movie have been different if this scene was missing from the movie?
6. As the days go by, Phil progresses through a series of psychological states: confusion, over-indulgence, romantic desire, depression, acceptance, human kindness, intellectual improvement. Which of these would a stoic accept or reject?