Happy Groundhog Day! To celebrate, let’s take another look at the great Harold Ramis comedy that tells a hilarious and heart-tugging story about conversion, love and redemption.
The New York Times marked the movie’s 10-year-anniversary in 2003 with a thoughtful and surprisingly interesting glimpse into the different religious connotations of the film:
Harold Ramis, the director of the film and one of its writers, said last week that since it came out he has heard from Jesuit priests, rabbis and Buddhists, and that the letters keep coming. ”At first I would get mail saying, ‘Oh, you must be a Christian, because the movie so beautifully expresses Christian belief,’ ” Mr. Ramis said during a conversation on his mobile phone as he was walking the streets of Los Angeles. ”Then rabbis started calling from all over, saying they were preaching the film as their next sermon. And the Buddhists! Well, I knew they loved it, because my mother-in-law has lived in a Buddhist meditation center for 30 years and my wife lived there for 5 years.” …Some theologians see much less Buddhism in the story than Judaism. Dr. Niles Goldstein, rabbi of the New Shul congregation in Greenwich Village and author of ”Lost Souls: Finding Hope in the Heart of Darkness” (Bell Tower, 2002), said he finds Jewish resonance in the fact that Mr. Murray’s character is rewarded by being returned to earth to perform more mitzvahs — good deeds — rather than gaining a place in heaven, which is the Christian reward, or achieving nirvana, the Buddhist reward. He has not used the movie as an allegory for his congregation, he said, but he might now. ”The movie tells us, as Judaism does, that the work doesn’t end until the world has been perfected,” Rabbi Goldstein said. But wait. Michael Bronski, a film critic for The Forward who teaches a course in Jewish film history at Dartmouth, said he sees strong elements of not only Jewish but also Christian theology. ”The groundhog is clearly the resurrected Christ, the ever hopeful renewal of life at springtime, at a time of pagan-Christian holidays,” he said, adding: ”And when I say that the groundhog is Jesus, I say that with great respect.” The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and an associate editor of America, the National Catholic Weekly, didn’t quite see the groundhog as Christ-like. Referring to the Murray character, he said, ”You do, however, very clearly see the deadness of his life at the beginning of the movie.” After the self dies, he added, ”what is reborn is this new person resurrected from his comatose way of looking at the world.” …Yogis, Jesuits and psychoanalytic practitioners have told Mr. Ramis that they feel a strong spiritual kinship with the message they see in the film. In the case of the psychoanalysts, he said, ”it’s the ‘we keep reliving the same old patterns over and over again until we gain the right to free ourselves’ thing.”
You’ll get no argument from me.
For me, I think this movie shows what it means to be a practicing Catholic: you keep practicing until you get it right.