I’m taking a class this semester called Philosophy through Film, and one of the assignments is to write a journal entry for each movie we watch. My previous entries are on Crimes and Misdemeanors, and the Matrix. Groundhog Day and Nietzsche
I think Groundhog Day raises a lot of the same philosophical questions, and comes to the same sorts of conclusions, as Nietzsche's thought experiment of Eternal Return. But I think that case is made clearly by our reading, James H. Spence's essay "What Nietzsche Could Teach You: Eternal Return in Groundhog Day," so I don't want to dwell on that.
Groundhog Day and the value of individuals
While I largely agree with the message of this film, there is an aspect of it that annoys me -- a small criticism of its central premise. Phil gets locked into a time loop the day he meets Rita, and it's only by sincerely earning her respect that he breaks the loop. In the intervening time, he comes to learn about, respect, and appreciate, it's implied, every citizen of Punxsutawney as unique, interesting and worthwhile people unto themselves. It seems to me that the film suggests two opposed messages: that everyone has intrinsic value, and that some people are intrinsically more special than others. I even get the impression that Phil is implied to be more special than everyone else, but not quite as special as Rita, whose intervention is what's necessary to pull him up that extra little bit (over the course of about ten years in a time loop.)
Phil obviously got lucky in getting ten years where there was literally nothing he could accomplish other than building his own character, but is the conclusion we're meant to draw that some people are uniquely equipped to develop into extraordinary examples of humanity? That, it seems to me, would be the Nietzschian interpretation.
But I think it would also be fair to argue that the film implies anyone, if forced, is capable of becoming a self-actualized, life-affirming individual. Maybe it would take some people longer -- maybe if one of the men Phil drank with on the (third?) night had been caught in the same sort of loop, he'd have spent thirty, or one hundred, or one thousand years there. But Given infinite time, no accumulation of stuff, and no new content, I can't imagine anyone wouldn't ultimately find a way to love it. Or, learn to self-inflict a coma in less than a second upon hearing the first couple notes of the song the alarm clock plays.
Groundhog Day and authorial intent
I don't personally know which, if either, of those interpretations the creators of Groundhog Day intended. But I don't think that means that either of them are automatically valid or invalid. I certainly don't think I can say with any measure of confidence that Groundhog Day is about one of those things.
But I do think that there are interpretations of Groundhog Day that are more valid than others. I think, for example, that you couldn't honestly argue that Groundhog Day is about giving up on life. You certainly couldn't say that it's about the everyday world experience of Bed and Breakfast owners.
It's definitely possible that, if asked, the director, or writer, or producer, of Groundhog Day could tell you exactly which or what other interpretation is most in line with their intent. And I think that's interesting, (especially if they said different things,) but I also think that a major part of the value of successful art is that it can present questions like this without forcing you into an exact duplication of the artists' beliefs.
I, personally, believe that almost everyone is capable of leading a self-actualized, life-affirming lifestyle. As a film, Groundhog Day helps me think about the implications of that belief, and raises legitimate questions about the demands of that sort of belief.
...I'm not very good at concluding these posts, am I?