Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day (1993) is known as a great comedy, but it also has some incredibly wise life lessons to share. The general synopsis: Bill Murray’s character, Phil, is a jerky weatherman sent to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania with his producer Rita to cover Groundhog Day. He wakes up the next day, and it’s still February 2. He ends up reliving this day over and over and over again (the internet generally agrees it’s for about ten years), without knowing why.
At first Phil reacts with fear. Fear turns into anger, and for a while he behaves like an even bigger jerk than before. He crashes cars, steals money, and even tries to kill himself after a while without success. What must it be like to feel so incredibly trapped that you don’t even have the power to take your own life?
At some point, though, Phil decides to take advantage of his gift. He spends a great deal of time learning about Rita, going on the same date with her day in and day out, crafting the perfect actions and words so that each day he can keep her around a little bit longer. At first it’s almost admirable, and then you start to wonder whether maybe he shouldn’t be with her at all if he’s this bad at it.
One day Phil comes to the same conclusion, and he gives up. He lets go of his resentment and his anger and his scheming because he doesn’t know what else to do, and he tries the only option left: honesty. He tells Rita what’s going on and, lucky for him, she becomes interested. She ends up spending the night with him like a science experiment, to see what happens when the clock strikes six. At the end of the night, as Rita falls asleep, Phil whispers:
Rita cannot hear him, and she won’t remember this tomorrow. Phil has no ulterior motive other than the fact that it has finally dawned on him that he is utterly and completely in love.
The next day we see a new Phil. This Phil may not have Rita as a partner, but he is a different man simply for being able to admit his feelings for her. He starts doing things like taking piano lessons (the teacher may not remember him, but his growing talent survives each day) and learning about the people of Punxsutawney, whom he had before cast aside because they were hicks. Suddenly he’s open to the world around him. Maybe this is the first time he loves himself; this is the first time that he’s worth more than the usual bitterness and sarcasm and selfishness. Caring about others and wanting to make oneself better takes vulnerability, but you get what you give.
And one day, after maybe years of piano lessons, acquainting himself with the needs and situations of the people around him, and ultimately coming to be at peace with himself, Phil wins the love of Rita. It’s more genuine and less painful than learning to say every perfect word: he becomes a better person, and she loves him for that. The most important part is that he’s not doing it for her, he’s doing it for himself. This story shows us that we are only truly worthy of love when we live not to receive love from others, but to give it. Phil gains so much joy and self worth from helping the people of his town, engaging in his hobbies, and basking in the company of Rita, that he doesn’t even expect anything more. Even when Rita finally- finally!- tells him that she loves him, he says, “No matter what happens tomorrow or for the rest of my life, I’m happy now. Because I love you.”
Now, here’s the part of the movie that really gets me. Phil makes himself better because he’s not busy trying to get somewhere else. What if, instead of trying to live in a better place or get a better job, we tried to better ourselves? Phil is stuck in the same tiny town with the same people and the same job every day, much like many of us. He would go completely insane if he concentrated on his location and on his job day in and day out. Phil realizes (eventually) what many Americans don’t: life isn’t about where you are, or where you’re going. It’s about who you are. Life would be much more full if we lived each day not trying to get a fancier caption under our picture, but instead working on the personality behind it.
This movie is about what happens when there’s no prospect of a future. This doesn’t literally happen often, but for many of us, there’s a comparison to our own life. We’re so focused on what’s next, but Phil teaches us that maybe we can only deserve what’s next when we learn to love what’s now.
And it turns out that the purpose of his reliving the same day, that day of possibility between winter and spring, wasn’t just to make him “a better person.” It was to help him learn to appreciate his life and to make the most of each day and the gifts it brings. Once he does, he wakes up on February 3. And he utters the words, “Today is tomorrow.”
You can’t get to your tomorrow until you make the best of your today. Maybe that means your job, or your relationships. But no matter the context, it is possible to be stuck in today forever. We’ve all had days during which we tell ourselves, “All I have to do is get through, go to sleep, and I’ll wake up and it will be tomorrow.” But what if we didn’t have tomorrow? What if all we could do was make today as great as we possibly can?
We don’t get to practice for each day hundreds of times, but we do get to do the best we can on purpose. Maybe if you make the best you can of today, whatever comes next- no matter what it is- will be beautiful.