In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray plays a wisecracking and sarcastic TV weatherman who is sent on assignment to cover the annual Groundhog Day festivities in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvannia. He is accompanied by a sweet and cheery producer, played by actress Andie MacDowell, and a smart-aleck cameraman, played by Chris Elliott. The Bill Murray character covers the news story in his usual arrogant and condescending way, but then things start to go wrong. First, on his way out of town, he and his crew get stuck in Punxsutawney due to a giant snowstorm--which as a weatherman, he had failed to predict. Second, he awakens the next morning to discover its Groundhog Day all over again...and again...and again. Being stuck in a time warp might not be so bad, but for the Bill Murray character, who sees himself as a "bigshot" and looks down on the entire town and the small town mindset of its people, having to repeat day after day here is pure hell. At one point, he even tries to commit suicide, only to awake the next morning to find that yes, its still Groundhog Day!
Eventually, the Bill Murray character begins to "see the light." He begins to realize that maybe, just maybe, it is he himself that is "the real problem." In one key scene, he says to the Andie MacDowell character, whom he is starting to fall in love with, that he doesnt believe he deserves someone as nice as she. Because she is so much the antithesis of him, it's as if her genuine sweetness acts as a "mirror" to show him how selfish, rude and downright mean-spirited he is. Almost immediately, once he begins to really see himself, he also begins to change.
I believe Groundhog Day is a Buddhist movie because of this "transformation" of the Bill Murray character. He becomes, as we would say in Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, "a true human being," as opposed to the self-centered and arrogant person he started out as. What is important to note is that the transformation occurs not through the action of some external supreme being, or through the action of the Bill Murray character himself (i.e., through his own self-power). It occurs because he encounters a difficulty in his life that is greater than himself.
In Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, we are taught that, even if we are aware that our ego-self is the problem, we cannot simply decide to become a "good person." The self cannot correct itself. What is required is a power much greater than the self, which essentially "negates" or "challenges" the self. In Buddhism, we call this power the Dharma. One way that we encounter this power in our lives is in the general form of difficulties, or "things that don't go our way." One obvious example of such a difficulty is that we all inevitably grow older and eventually must die. In Groundhog Day, the difficulty is that the same day keeps repeating, which of course, really infuriates the Bill Murray character. However, he finally begins to understand that "the point" all along has been that he has to "get it right," and treat those around him with true respect and compassion. In Buddhist terms, we would say that when he finally sees himself as he really is, he is humbled, and he no longer puts himself above others. Suddenly, he has a new view of life and begins to go out of his way to be kind and to help all the people he meets, even those that had most annoyed him before. When he does so, the date finally changes, and when he awakens the next morning, it's now the day after Groundhog Day. Now, with his new, more humble attitude and genuine appreciation of everything around him, he is "allowed" to go on and truly enjoy his life.
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