Friday, August 23, 2013

this is real. this is love

…that being said, Phil, human like the rest of us, probably still has no idea what love is (if it’s anything) at the end of his journey… Except, maybe he actually knows it better than any of us; it just isn’t isolated to romantic love anymore. Phil loves everyone. After years of repetition, after getting past his arrogance and his egocentrism and his chauvinism and his narcissism, he has become the ultimate, well, hippie I suppose. Without all the lazy stereotypes, of course. Phil’s world has become a literal microcosm of the larger world, so it may be easier, but he has come to care about, presumably, everyone in it. He doesn’t just save a kid from falling out of a tree, or save Buster from choking, or fix Felix’s back. He also changes a tire, lights a cigarette, and “fan the flame” of a young woman’s passion for her fiancé. And, so much more, I think we can assume.

(In Rubin’s first revision (according to Ryan Gilbey; I haven’t seen that draft), Phil also “pump[s] the stomach of Janey, a lovesick girl who has attempted suicide [and] remov[es] an old lady from the path of a truck.”)

And, aside from a stop to do his piano lesson on that final iteration of February 2nd, there are still numerous moments unaccounted for. I doubt he’s sitting around throwing cards into a hat anymore.

The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, tells us:

Ultimately, the reason why love and compassion bring the greatest happiness is simply that our nature cherishes them above all else. The need for love lies at the very foundation of human existence. It results from the profound interdependence we all share with one another. However capable and skillful an individual may be, left alone, he or she will not survive. However vigorous and independent one may feel during the most prosperous periods of life, when one is sick or very young or very old, one must depend on the support of others.

I think Phil Connors knows this better than anyone. Nevermind Maslow or Glasser, Phil knows what people need. Sometimes it’s a life-saving intervention. Sometimes it’s a light for a cigarette. And, sometimes it’s someone new to sit by you drinking at the local bowling alley. When Phil tells Rita, “This is love,” he’s wrong or he’s lying or both. But, later on, he could account for most of his actions with the same sentiment. And, despite Bacha (who I cited so much yesterday, it is not his love for Rita (or his pursuit of it, anyway) that drives him. He’s better than that; that’s the point. If we assume he is only bettering himself to earn Rita’s love, then we’re now the cynical ones. Then again, maybe romantic comedies are cynical at heart because, like many a religion, they tell us that we can never be complete on our own… and yet I quoted the Dalai Lama saying something similar, didn’t I?

We obviously enjoy companionship and love and belonging. But, maybe this isn’t because we are, as Daniel Quinn suggests we believe it to be, “fundamentally flawed” but because we are, in fact, fundamentally perfect.

(Now, who’s the hippie?)

Tenzin Gyatso says: “It is because our own human existence is so dependent on the help of others that our need for love lies at the very foundation of our existence. Therefore we need a genuine sense of responsibility and a sincere concern for the welfare of others.” I think, on some level, we can all agree with that last notion. But, we tend to be so cynical that we assume that “sense of responsibility” and “concern” comes from a conscious effort, that it doesn’t come naturally. We balk at the “it takes a village” concept and don’t do enough to help the downtrodden of the world to be better off…

And, now I’m preaching, aren’t I? The atheist preaching about loving your fellow man, and in a blog about a silly romantic comedy from two decades ago—that should be the new tagline for this blog.

Anyway, my point at the top of this entry was that Phil is wrong when he tells Rita, “This is love.” But, that doesn’t mean he didn’t believe it. And, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t mean it when he tells her on the final iteration of February 2nd, “I’m happy now because I love you.” I just think he loves a lot more than just Rita. I don’t buy Bacha’s line that Phil is just trying to improve himself for Rita. I’m not that cynical. On the other hand, I am cynical enough to suggest that Phil doesn’t necessarily intend to become a better man, either. I’ve seen variations of the following quotation, but this particular version gets attributed to Winston Churchill: “The Americans will always do the right thing… after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives.” This same idea can be applied to Phil. We could assume that Phil only becomes better because he’s exhausted all other options.

But, that doesn’t negate the effect. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t become a better man. And, yes, the hippie in me thinks the best example of him being a “better man” is his concern for everyone else around him, not just those close to him but everyone, even the Old Man he can’t save…

It occurs to me now that on that last iteration, with Phil at the ball interacting with a who’s who of Punxsutawney, the Old Man is outside, not that far away, dying. Now, I think Phil has learned that the Old Man can’t be saved. But, it saddens me to think of that Old Man dying alone in an alleyway while the people of Punxsutawney dance the night away.

This is why you shouldn’t watch a movie too many times. You don’t just notice new things onscreen; you catch things offscreen, and some of them are nice, but some of them are just depressing.

Today’s reason to repeat a day forever: to get on with some shallower topics like an exploration of the notable screen roles of Stephen Tobolowsky or Chris Elliott. Or maybe I’ve already repeated today so many times that I’m over such things—we’ve got IMDb and Wikipedia for that anyway.

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