Exploring philosophy in popular culture is an exciting hobby that can never be exhausted. No matter how hard you try, you can’t ever examine every film, song, or play to find all the subtext. Authors, directors and actors rarely divulge all their hidden symbolism anyway, so most popular works are left open to wide interpretation. This creates what I would call “sub-art” because the interpreter is, in a way, producing a new work with their interpretative portrait based on the original. It’s harder to be unique in interpretation though.
Today is Groundhog Day. Every February 2nd, I’m reminded of the Bill Murray film that I’ve loved for so long. Murray has become a bit of a cult of personality over the course of my life. Other stars of a similar caste have done the same, John Malkovich to a lesser degree, but Murray takes the cake for cultural icons with minimal attractiveness, and maximum cerebral appeal. I’m not going to give a synopsis of the movie. If you haven’t seen it more than once you are of limited taste, and have possibly been living in the third world for the last twenty years. I have often philosophized about the movie, so this year I thought I would search the internet to see what other theories were out there. One of my favorites, it turns out, is actually quite popular and not at all original. Punxsutawney, PA is actually Purgatory. Come to think of it, the alliteration might be the inspiration that sparked the idea in the writer’s head. Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis are credited as writers on the film, but Rubin was the originator. I’ve not been able to find much info on him, but I presume he is Jewish, so I’m not sure that Purgatory was what he was striving to depict. Still, when viewing it through Catholic lenses, it looks very much like a study on theology. There’s a great piece by Jim Ciscell (no relation) on toptenz.net that studies this in detail. I regret that I didn’t take the time to write it myself, but my day job keeps getting in the way of my writing. I especially like his observation that Phil (Murray’s character) might actually have ruined Ned Ryerson’s life through his disregard for people he found insignificant. In a way, his vanity had led not only to a miserable existence for him, but possibly for others too, even people on the periphery of his life. While I would like to think that my analysis of the movie was original, it is also gratifying to have the validation that comes with other people espousing the same view.
The Youtube channel “WhatCulture” has a video that attempts to explain how much time Phil may have spent living the same day over and over again in Pennsylvania. Even though I’ve never thought to compute the time, I’m somehow relieved that there are people out there working on important studies such as this. They came up with something over thirty-three years. That’s how long it took him to become fluent in French, a concert pianist, and a professional ice sculptor. Oh, the things one could do if they spent three decades devoted to nothing but self-improvement… and with that realization, a little bit of sadness crept over my heart. I have not used the last three decades to their full potential. Nobody does, I guess. Still, there’s more I could’ve done. There’s more I should have done. Phil was given a great gift in that he was able to live the same day over until he got it right. I’ve only been working with consecutive days, none of which have been perfect, but many of which have been good. Many reject the idea of Purgatory in general, but I’ve always found it to be one of the few comforting beliefs in Catholic Dogma; the idea that it is not necessary for one to be perfect, for they will be afforded the opportunity for perfection if their humanity keeps them from getting it completely right on the first try.
Life is all about second chances, and according to the expert analysis on the internet, Phil Conners got over 12,000 second chances. While he started out bitter and angry over the “hell” in which he was trapped, he eventually came to appreciate it as he became more and more perfect over time. My understanding of the theological necessity of Purgatory is that it is to perfect the soul before it can participate in the perfection of the creator. While I’ve heard it described as equal to hell in its pain and suffering, my own interpretation is that as a soul is purified it begins to see the need for it all. No pain, no gain. By the end of the movie, Phil is a delightful person, adored by all the people that despised him at the beginning of the “day.” He won them over in one day. It just took him thirty-three years to do it. Good show.