The spiritual lessons of Groundhog Day

Oh neat, Roger Ebert thanked me (via Twitter) for quoting him about Rodney and Groucho. Love that guy. (Actually, all those guys.)

Speaking of films, while reading "And Here's the Kicker," I was surprised to find out the movie Groundhog Day is hailed by religious leaders as the most spiritual film of all time.

"At first I would get mail saying, 'Oh, you must be a Christian because the movie so beautifully expresses Christian belief'," the film's director Harold Ramis recently told The New York Times. "Then rabbis started calling from all over, saying they were preaching the film as their next sermon. And the Buddhists!"...Professor Angela Zito, the co-director of the Centre for Religion and Media at New York University, told me that Groundhog Day illustrated the Buddhist notion of samsara, the continuing cycle of rebirth that individuals try to escape. In the older form of Buddhist belief, she said, no one can escape to nirvana unless they work hard and lead a very good life...

[Rabbi] Niles Goldstein recently said that there was a resonance in Murray's character being rewarded by being returned to earth to perform more good deeds, or mitzvahs. This was in contrast to gaining a place in heaven (the Christian reward) or else achieving nirvana (the Buddhist reward). He is considering using the film as an allegory when he speaks to his congregation. "The movie tells us, as Judaism does, that the work doesn't end until the world has been perfected," he said.

As Ramis has been told by Jesuit priests among others, the film clearly also contains themes found within the Christian tradition. Michael Bronski, a film critic with the magazine Forward and a visiting professor at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, where he teaches a course in film history, said: "The groundhog is clearly the resurrected Christ, the ever-hopeful renewal of life at springtime, at a time of pagan-Christian holidays. And when I say that the groundhog is Jesus, I say that with great respect."

Pretty special when a story can speak to so many different types of people on a spiritual level. Reminds me of Joseph Campbell's discussions of the need for modern myths and the storytelling formulas that show up throughout different times, places, and cultures. If you're not familiar with Campbell, check out this interview he did with Bill Moyers on Netflix. It's fascinating.

Oh, and to bring it all full circle: I got turned on to Campbell by my mom, who had him as a professor decades ago.

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