January 6, 2009

"Groundhog Day" named One of the Ten Best Movies EVER

There are two types of people in this world: those that love Groundhog Day, and those that can't appreciate it. Our job is to exterminate the latter group. -- Adum Miller, webmaster GHD Home Page
The Great Stanley Fish, a frequent contributor to the N. Y. Times, has named "Groundhog Day" as one of his ten favorite movies of all time in an article, "The 10 Best American Movies," published a couple days ago in the Times online. "Groundhog Day," released on the Groundhog holiday, 2/2/1993, is the most-recent of the ten films Fish named.

"Groundhog Day" is the favorite of a great many Buddhists because of the storyline of the movie where the protagonist overcomes his egomaniacal suffering as a result of assimilating to a 24-hour time loop he finds himself trapped in. Other religious faiths also claim the movie as sending a message of their creed about how a person can become better or more spiritual.

Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, the overbearing protagonist, a TV weatherman sent to cover festivities of February 2, in celebration of Groundhog Day, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Andie MacDowell plays Rita, his producer and romantic interest. And the great character actor Stephen Tobolowsky plays Ned Ryerson, an aggressive life-insurance salesman who once dated Phil's sister.

I fell in love with the movie the first time I saw it and subsequently wrote about it. First, in about 1995 for now-defunct edarma magazine, calling Groundhog Day the greatest Buddhist movie. Then I wrote something for now-sleeping Zen Unbound , "Groundhog Day and the Cosmic Sense," matching Phil's development to levels of cosmic-conscious achievement. Lastly, I wrote a piece called "The Ned Ryerson Conundrum" which was read by Richard Henzel, who voiced a radio DJ in the movie, at the Groundhog Day Breakfast in Woodstock, Il. -- where the movie was filmed -- in celebration of the fifth aniversary of the film's release [i.e., on 2/2/98]. [Is my pride showing?]

My writing has been "disappeared" by my very very very very evil sister who has stolen almost all my belongings, including two laptops and my inheritance of about $100,000, leaving me in abject poverty. Phil Connors isn't the only guy to have problems.

There are, however, two particularly splendid recent pieces about Groundhog Day written by premier buddhobloggers that I am honored to cite: "Groundhog Day, Samsara and Salt" written by the noble Kyle Lovett for Progressive Buddhism; and "Don't Drive Angry..." by the revered, revealing and revolutionary Rev. Danny Fisher for his eponymous blog.

Kyle writes that GD is "[o]ne of [his] favorite movies of all time," even before he was buddhafied. Dano tops that, writing that it's his "favorite 'Buddhist film.'" YOU GO, guys!

Here a snip from Kyle's bodacious and deep essay:
Today, some Buddhist's point to this movie as an example of Samsara, and some temples even have screenings every February 2nd. But what is Samsara and what does Groundhog Day have to do with it? Samsara has been translated into a few different types of meanings in the Buddhist tradition, depending greatly on who you hear it from. However, loosely speaking, Samsara is this wheel of life we are on, these ups and down and endless cycles and perhaps we can even say it stands in opposition of Nirvana.
And here some fine words from the remarkable remarking reverand's piece:
The Buddha once said, "I teach only suffering and its end." To my thinking, if ever there was a film that taught that same material exactly, it's Groundhog Day. Phil Connors, the sour protagonist portrayed by Bill Murray (in what Time Magazine's Richard Corliss very rightly calls one of the great screen performances of all time), slowly comes to grips with the reality of suffering and discovers a way to relate to it that leads to an unexpected peace.
Wow! Good stuff, eh? Who wouldn't want to spend eternity reading and rereading these guys' essays!?

But wait! What's this!? A blogpost by the revolting reverand revealing he reviles Groundhog Day!!! In his Sept 2008 post, "A list of films about Buddhism," Daniel LEAVES GROUNDHOG DAY OFF THE LIST OF 60 FILMS! And where is Ikiru? Man, Dano. Asleep at the wheel!?

Update #1 [1/9/09] I take back my pretend criticism of Danny Fisher's list of films about Buddhism. Indeed, only movies that are overtly about Buddhism should be on the list. The problem with Groundhog Day (and the Matrix) are that they try to be pluralistically religious. Both GHD & Matrix are "claimed" by Christians, as indeed the screenwriters intended. Both GHD & Matrix have symbolism that is meant to attract various religions. Nonetheless, GHD tracts mostly with mayajana Buddhist belief with its ego-diminishment message.

Update #2 [1/9/09] EeeHa. I found all of my old Groundhog Day writing on the Internet archives [i.e., the Wayback Machine] "The Greatest Buddhism Movie Ever Made!," found in the Zen Unbound [when it was on AOL] archives. The article first appeared in edharma. Then there is "On the Trail of the Groundhog," an early version of "Groundhog Day and the Cosmic Sense." And, finally, "The Ned Ryerson Conundrum." Now that Blogger allows for post-dated entries, I will very likely update all three articles and schedule them for a 2/2/09 publication in this blog.

8 comments:

Nagarjuna said...

Tom--
I've never seen this film. I've always steered away from it because I believed it was probably the cinematic equivalent of cotton candy. But you've now persuaded me to see Groundhog Day" the first chance I get.

Tom said...

Nagarjuna,

It is a bit of a situation-comedy style movie. You might be agog at how simple and silly it seems, but hang in there: On its rickity foundation is built a temple of fine marble.

Buddhist_philosopher said...

I remember really liking this movie when it came out - but top ten? Ever? Where is Kundun in the list? Or The Little Buddha - with my favorite Buddha-actor, Keanu Reeves?

Tom, didn't you have a (better) list of best ever movies floating around in cyberspace somewhere? In any case, I'll have to watch Groundhog Day again... thanks :)

Tom said...

Bud Phil,

I don't think I ever created my own top-ten list. Hm. I should do that! Body Heat and Pulp Fiction and Ikiru would be on it. And Groundhog Day. Kundun might be on it; actually, I think I liked Seven Years in Tibet better.

Where's YOUR Top 10, dude? Pizza-eater Danny Fisher possibly has one. I know he recently listed his top ten worst Buddhist characters! And Top 5 movies about Buddhism! And where's Nagarjuna's list!?

Rev. Danny Fisher said...

XD LOL!

I'm a revolting pizza-eater now, am I? Them's fightin' words! : )

Just for the record: I LOVE "Groundhog Day." That list I compiled was just of movies explicitly about Buddhism. I left off ones that, while perhaps influenced by Buddhist ideas (like "Groundhog Day"), weren't about Buddhists or Buddhism (like, say, "Kundun").

But, I don't know. Given the fact that screenwriter Danny Rubin has done Zen practice and has talked about how that influenced the film, perhaps "Groundhog Day" belongs in some sort of "middle way" category between the Buddhist and the Buddhish films.

Rev. Danny Fisher said...

Following up to what I just said: the film is in a class by itself, isn't it? : )

Tom said...

I do wonder, Dano: Which is EXPLICITLY Buddhist? A movie that reveals Buddhism's message either overtly or allegorically [but might not say the word Buddha even once]? OR a movie that has a bunch of guys marching around in burgundy-colored robes, chanting?

Is Buddhism the message or the trappings of Buddhist culture?

"Buddhish" sounds like something that isn't quite there yet. I know that Will of thinkBuddhism writes that he doesn't consider himself Buddhist, but can say that he leans in that direction, he's "Buddhish." Buddhish sounds to me like milk that has gotten blinky having gone too far past its expiration date.

Rev. Danny Fisher said...

Tom: No need to take back pretend criticism. : ) I think you put it perfectly, though, when you write:

Both GHD & Matrix are "claimed" by Christians, as indeed the screenwriters intended. Both GHD & Matrix have symbolism that is meant to attract various religions.

Hence my own reluctance to label them "Buddhist" pictures. Though you are quite right to further state:

Nonetheless, GHD tracts mostly with mayajana Buddhist belief with its ego-diminishment message.

Your comments here have changed some of my thinking on this. Though, I confess I still don't know where I land on it all. It's certainly a fun and interesting conundrum for those of us who like to think about Buddhism and film.

Also, I'd never done a "10 Best of All-Time" list. You inspired me to fix that, though:

http://chaplaindanny.blogspot.com/2009/01/my-picks-for-10-best-movies-of-all-time.html

With bows,
DCF