This is one time where television really fails to capture the true excitement of a large squirrel predicting the weather."
The 1993 Bill Murray-led comedy classic Groundhog Day is a film about living the same day, over and over again, or at least it is on the surface. For those who haven't seen it, it goes like this: in act one, we meet Phil Connors, an angry weatherman. In act two, Phil inexplicably lives the same day twice, and then again, and again... and so on and so forth. Naturally, he can't believe it. In the third act, Phil realizes he can't die and bargains with his condition, ultimately fueling his spiral into depression by the fourth act. In the fifth act, Phil learns to live in service of others, finally accepting his circumstances. Only then can Phil be free. The story of Groundhog's Day is not only the story of Phil Connors, it is also the story of living in lockdown and the story of the five stages of grief.
According to the Kübler-Ross model of grief (which Harold Ramis referenced while writing the film), the five stages of grief follow a similar path to what Phil and many people living in lockdown experienced. Everybody processes grief differently, but for Phil and many others, living the same day over and over has felt like this: anger, disbelief, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Seeing Groundhog Day in this light has helped me understand Phil Connors, and maybe even myself, better than ever.
Whew! Watch out for that first step. It's a doozy!"
Phil, from the outset, is an angry person, principally defined by his rudeness, sarcasm, and cynicism. Phil's story begins angry and remains so until he reaches acceptance. Phil's anger is intertwined with his disbelief, and are ultimately the roots of his senseless bargaining and depression.
Anger seems to be at an all-time high these days. People living in lockdown have reflected that, both in words and actions. Living in lockdown, especially at first, felt like the world was suddenly upside down with tomorrow no longer a guarantee. Just like Phil, our new surroundings are unstable but repetitious, which feeds into the cycle of anger and disbelief.
Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn't one today."
When Phil wakes up on Groundhog Day again, he reacts like most would - with total disbelief. He scoffs at the radio being "yesterday's tape," but when he checks the window, and his eyes convince him of what his ears could not. The hotel staff and his walk to work convince him even further: it is Groundhog Day again. He even goes so far as to express his fears explicitly to his producer, Rita. The more confused people are by his claims, the more frustrated Phil becomes.
Disbelief, just like anger, has been trending ever since lockdown started. It seems like people are willing to question anything and everything these days as public distrust has reached a new high. This uncertainty for the future has led many to abscond old social norms in place of an unsustainable lifestyle of overindulgence. Phil did the same thing as part of his grieving process. His behavior is what the Kubler-Ross model recognizes as bargaining.
I was in the Virgin Islands once. I met a girl. We ate lobster, drank piña coladas. At sunset, we made love like sea otters. That was a pretty good day. Why couldn't I get that day over and over and over?"
In Groundhog Day, bargaining comes chiefly in the form of overindulgence. When Phil realizes he can essentially live without consequence he breaks the law, leads the cops on a wild car chase, robs a bank, sleeps with every woman in town, and eats like a mad man. This is how Phil bargains with his new circumstances - he seeks to exploit them in the most selfish ways possible. I doubt anyone living in lockdown can live as consequence free as Phil, but millions of people are playing GTA V. It became free in early May, and about 10 million locked-down people downloaded it. Phil Connor's crimes pale in comparison to a typical Tuesday in Los Santos.
People overindulged in much more real ways as well. Pot, booze, and Chinese take-out sales seem to reflect the waves of the virus. What many people in the real world learn is that overindulging leads to oversaturation. Phil mostly escapes his consequences, but eventually finds himself empty despite his wild lifestyle. Phil enters the fourth act in a deep depression brought on by the realization that he cannot truly connect with another human being; a feeling many on lockdown can relate to.
There is no way that this winter is ever going to end as long as this groundhog keeps seeing his shadow. I don't see any other way out. He's got to be stopped. And I have to stop him."
Phil's depression is spurred by his inability to sleep with his producer, Rita. No matter how hard he tries, her purity of character elevates her to the unattainable. Phil finally gives up and returns to his routine distraught, a shell of his former self. Unable to overindulgence his emptiness any longer, he is cold, uncaring, and joyless. Again, the days drag on. Finally, Phil reaches a breaking point. He surmises a way out -stealing the eponymous groundhog and driving it off a cliff, killing them both. Much to Phil's chagrin, he wakes up the next morning in bed once again, unharmed and still doomed.
It's a sad truth, but depression, anxiety, abuse, and suicide have all been on the rise. If you get anything out of this article, let it be this: if you need help, reach out to someone. You are not alone. These are unprecedented and difficult times. We can make it through this. Mental health is just as important as physical health - we still have to find a way to take care of ourselves. Going through depression is a natural part of the healing process. If you can hold on, you'll make it to acceptance, just like Phil Connors.
Sometimes I wish I had a thousand lifetimes. I don't know, Phil. Maybe it's not a curse. Just depends on how you look at it."
Phil, unable to end his life, finds a way to make peace with it. Again, he bargains, but this time for good. He seeks pleasure in art, knowledge, and culture. By developing these interests, he develops relationships and begins to care for others. After 10,000 lifetimes, Phil finally lives a day completely for others - he helps old ladies, supports Ned Ryerson, offers warmth to a dying man, saves someone from choking, and plays some pretty slick jazz piano. He finally gives up his selfish pursuit of Rita and simply loves her instead. Only once Phil lives an entire day for others is he allowed to move on to February 3rd.
The last stage of the grieving process is acceptance. Some people have made it there, others are still trying. On some level, living through lockdown has affected everyone. My experience found me moving through all five stages of grief in the last nine months. Many Americans have experienced much worse, and it is still difficult for many to accept where we are today. Phil had it comparatively easy compared to us, but that doesn't mean we can't learn similar lessons. That's why, as yet another February 2nd approaches, Groundhog Day is more relevant than ever.
Today is tomorrow. It happened."