Non-Mormon Mormon Movies Part 1 — ‘Groundhog Day’

Well, movie fans, this is the first in an occasional series on Non-Mormon Mormon Movies (N-MMM). The idea here is to discuss movies that are not made by members of the Church, and are therefore not considered “Mormon movies,” but have broad themes that Latter-day Saints would or should enjoy. The movies discussed are not all going to be squeaky clean, and in some cases people will be encouraged to get the Cleanflicks version. But most of the movies will have a broad theme or message that will ring true with members of the Church. I’m encouraging these movies as good for Family Home Evening or Mutual or other events where LDS themes should be discussed.

“Groundhog Day”(1993) is considered by many people to be a very spiritual movie.

In fact, the director Harold Ramis says in his commentary on the movie that Buddhists, Jews and Christians have all contacted him to say he must be from their religion because he has perfectly captured their life philosophy. In fact, the writer, Danny Rubin, is a Buddhist.

The story is about a cynical weatherman (Bill Murray) who relives the same day over and over again. According to director Harold Ramis, Rubin, the script writer, intended for Murray to spend 10,000 years in the same day, but the movie does not specify how many times he must relive the same day. But clearly, he is stuck there a very, very long time.

The movie is about eternal progression. As Murray (Phil Connors) lives the day over and over again, he goes through various stages. At first, he is confused. Then, he is ecstatic because he can do anything he wants without consequences. He performs pranks and picks up women just to see if he can. In his next stage, he becomes depressed because he is simply stuck in an endless loop and cannot get out. He commits suicide in several different ways. And the process of trying to kill himself (and not succeeding because he simply wakes up to relive the same day over and over again no matter what he does to himself) begins to change him. You can notice that his character begins to progress. He says: “I am a god — not THE God, but a god. I am immortal.”

And as Phil Connors progresses, he begins to focus less on himself and his suffering and more and more on the people around him. And he begins to like his life. He spends all of his day running around helping people and saving them and performing service. He begins to care about them more than himself. At the same time, he learns the piano, starts enjoying classical music and literature and learns how to ice sculpture.

One of the key tensions of the movie is his relationship with Rita (Andie MacDowell). When he is in his selfish stage, he sees Rita as simply a conquest. He learns pieces of her life in the cynical attempt to get Rita into bed with him. But as Phil progresses, he begins to see what a truly nice and pleasant person Rita is. He begins to see inside her character and recognizes a kindred soul. In fact, he never tires of her and enjoys her more the more time he spends with her.

As Phil changes, Rita perceives that he is growing up and raising himself slowly to her level. She begins to respond to him with kindness and respect as she notes how he is becoming a better person. And she is a perfect help meet to him, giving him advice and helping him figure out the puzzle in which he is trapped. And of course they end up together in the end — happily ever after.

Phil is finally able to leave his 10,000 years of suffering and progress on to the next day after a wonderful 24 hours when he spends the entire day helping others and impressing Rita with his kindness and humility. He has learned to truly love other human beings, and to truly love Rita. He has finally passed the test — he is now able to graduate. The key to his passing the test was changing himself — being reborn and becoming a new person. It is no accident that this new person has all of the charactistics of the Savior — humility, diligence, charity, selflessness and an inner peace. Of course Rita would be attracted to this kind and peaceful person — all of us would. Interestingly, as Phil perfects himself he no longer wants to sleep with Rita — he simply wants to be with her. Presumably, that will change once they are married.

This movie has themes that are very consistent with the LDS worldview. Phil must be changed, reborn, before he can progress. He cannot become truly complete without a compatible other half — a woman who loves and supports him and makes him a better person. Interestingly, Rita does not have to change — Phil has to raise himself to her level (something that seems to happen in a lot of LDS couples I know). You can easily imagine Phil and Rita spending eternity together and being happy. And you can see that the key moment in the process of change is when Phil realizes two things: 1)he is immortal — he has always existed and always will exist and there is nothing he can do about it, so he might as well improve himself and 2)he is most likely to be happy if he focuses on service and helping others and not on himself.

In my opinion, these very LDS themes are also themes that resonate with other religions because almost all religions have good in them. All religions at various times have received portions of the truth. It is great to see a work of art that is popular with so many spiritual people. It must have a lot of truth in it.

There is one scene in the this movie that children might not want to see, and there is some very mild bad language, but for the most part, this is a movie for the whole family. It will certainly spur some interesting discussions.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

15 thoughts on “Non-Mormon Mormon Movies Part 1 — ‘Groundhog Day’

  1. “Don’t drive angry” is some of the best advice ever given in any movie.

  2. On the scale of “simultaneously insightful and hilarious” this movie is at the absolute top of my list.

    Most insightful line.

    Phil Connors: “You make choices and you live with them.”

    One of the funnier lines.

    Phil Connors: What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?

    Ralph: That about sums it up for me.

  3. Also interesting how one of the stages involves death. While the movie involves suicide (not good for average LDS viewer); I found it helpful instead to view it as like “plucking out one’s eye,” i.e. removing bad behaviors. Since we all have to be “born again,” that there is a death before Sr. Connor’s “resurrection”/realization to be good, seems very appropriate.

  4. A Stake President’s councilor used this movie to make a point in a Stake Priesthood meeting.

  5. I would suggest that Rita does not have to change, not because she does not need to change, but because the story is from Phil’s perspective. In a first-person narrative, we become the first-person. I think it’s an essential aspect of moral storytelling, that the primary changing take place with the main character. Phil could have said, “What about all these other people? I don’t see them having perfect days every day. Why don’t they have to go through all of this?” But he didn’t.

  6. I’ve always wondered what I would learn and do if I didn’t have to think about tomorrow (as in the portion of the movie where he is learning piano, etc.). Unfortunately, most of the things I do on a daily basis are not on that list. I think that a good long part of the after-life must be like this.

  7. Phil Connors: What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?

    Ralph: That about sums it up for me.

    Aside from its hilarity, this is, to me, the theme of the movie. That about sums it up for all of us. Every day we get up, eat breakfast, go to school or work or take care of the kids or whatever, come home, and go to bed. Then the next day we get up and do it all over again. For the most part, every day is largely like every other day for most of us. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut. (Maybe that’s an explanation for the Sabbath day–a chance to get out of the rut.) The key, the movie shows, is working hard every day to improve yourself, to love other people, to serve other people, and to make something out of an otherwise boring, humdrum life.

  8. Pingback: » Secular Movies with Spiritual Value The Millennial Star

  9. Best line overheard on BYU campus:

    -Did you like “Groundhog Day?”
    -No. It reminded me too much of my mission.

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