Groundhog Day (1993) and the importance of human empathy

Groundhog Day is one of those films that the first time around you’ll enjoy it but you might not really dig deep around. It requires repeated viewings I think to really appreciate it and get the most out of it. I’ve now seen the movie probably around five times and it improves every single time I watch it and is now on my list of favorite films of all time after watching it this time around.

The true main theme of the film is empathy. Sure the movie is funny for sure, Bill Murray as usual brings his A-game and manages to give a great performance as he always does, he’s sarcastic, rude, and inconsiderate at first. An extremely cynical man who seems to hate just about everything and everyone. All he cares about is himself and his own desires. His biggest concern at the beginning of the film is getting a better job and just making his way up the ladder. It’s empty and shallow and petty. As the film progresses and he gets stuck in a time loop for what has been said to be 10,000 years supposedly (although the answer varies) in a place that he absolutely hates and in a holiday that he absolutely hates (Groundhog Day is a strange holiday to be perfectly honest but I think it only helps emphasizes the themes of this film), he progressively gets more depressed. He does what most typical people would do. He breaks the rules. He still lacks empathy and is fairly shallow. He tries to win the heart of Rita, unsuccessfully. Eventually he goes into a suicidal stint, he continuously tries to kill himself-unsuccessfully-which only makes him more unhappy.

As he talks to Rita about what has been happening, who is a nice and empathetic person, he begins to realize the importance of human empathy. That humans need to help each other even if it is in petty, insignificant ways, it’s very important to do. It can be in large ways as well. Selfishness isn’t necessarily wrong per say but it can be wrong if done wrong. People do want to achieve their desires (even though we can’t always) but we can’t do it in the worst way possible, if possible, we should do it in a helpful way but in general, the satisfaction and importance of helping human beings is an important factor of living an enriching life. Phil realizes that. He realizes that going through the day and learning note by note of what horrible things happen to people each and every day is much worse than what he has gone through.

The pivotal scene of this film is with the homeless old man. Phil tries to help him. Over and over and over again. Brings him to a hospital. He still dies. Feeds him plenty of food. He still dies. This is where Phil realizes something that everyone needs to realize: the inevitability of death. No matter what you do, you are going to die someday, so you might as well be nice to people, be empathetic to people, and be caring to people in this single chance that we have. Because thats all we have is each other. As the film ends, Phil gets out of the time loop by having a long day of helping everyone and eventually convincing Rita that he is a good man, purely through his actions to others. It ends with a warm direction towards life, Phil isn’t cynical, he doesn’t hate people anymore, in fact he cares quite a bit for them. Rita and Phil walk off together, it’s a typical romantic comedy ending that works because this movie is far from typical throughout, the ending is incredibly effective.

Besides being a commentary on the importance of human empathy, the film manages to still be quite hilarious and is well-edited when it strings the repeated days together. In general, this is a great film. Not just that though. An important film as well. One that everyone should watch-more than once-and learn something from. Humans are important. Not just you. As a collective we are. In conclusion, don’t be a dick.

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