if you could be anywhere...
In Ramis’ second revision of the script for Groundhog Day—and, no, this isn’t part four—Rita has an interesting take on Phil’s situation. Phil is working away at a “small hunk of marble” (this would switch to ice sculpting after the recon trip to Punxsutawney, in which Rubin et al discovered the ice sculpting competition held on Groundhog Day). Rita is watching. Phil asks her, “But what if the rules changed? What if none of your actions had consequences?”
Rita’s response: “There would still be an absolute morality. There has to be an absolute good, regardless of circumstances.” Rita’s not a fan of moral relativism, apparently. Phil proceeds to call her “Miss Plato” and asks, “Where does this ‘absolute good’ come from? From the sky?” Page 102 and Phil’s still snarky.
But, this reminds me a line from Suzanne M. Daughton’s “The Spiritual Power of Repetitive Form: Steps Toward Transcendence in Groundhog Day” (Critical Studies in Mass Communication 13 (1996), 138-154). Daughton writes:
[Phil] is saving people even though, judging by his recent experience, they will wake up fine again tomorrow, doomed to repeat the same catastrophes. He has started doing good deeds because he can, because they are inherently good.
There is an interesting notion here. And, an important question: by the end of Phil’s journey, is he living as if there is no tomorrow? Or, does the film promote the idea that there is such a thing as an absolute good? See, if Phil has been in the time loop so long that he has relaxed into the role—which he clearly has—then there would be no objective point to saving anyone. Unless one of two things is true: 1) Phil has come to believe in an absolute good or 2) Phil has surpassed being a victim of his curse, so to speak, and lives beyond the concept of yesterday or tomorrow. That is to say, he doesn’t save people because tomorrow might come and they need saving. He saves people because his entire universe has become these 24 hours, this one town, and however much he has decided he is not literal god, he, in fact, has become the god of Groundhog Day. In Ramis’ revision, he asks Rita where the absolute good would come from. But, the answer, perhaps is quite simple. The absolute good comes from Phil. Despite a certain loss of ego, he is being quite deliberately godlike in the end. He exists outside of normal life, outside of time, outside of Siddhartha’s river or the Buddha’s wheel of life. Daughton says Phil’s “concern for others has overridden what he ‘knows’ about the time loop.” But, one could almost take his need to save people—recall when the nurse says, “Sometimes people just die,” Phil’s admonition, “Not today”—as a very patriarchal control of his circumstance. On the one hand, maybe Phil has learned to simply be, no matter his environment. On the other hand, maybe he has just gotten better at manipulating everything to his personal liking.
Or maybe both are actually the same thing. Is it wrong if Phil is still controlling and manipulating events if the goal is what we would call “good”? Or, as Nietzsche asks in The Will to Power, “Can we remove the idea of a goal from the process and then affirm the process in spite of this?” Or, more commonly (and perhaps seeming like a reversal of the idea), does the end justify the means? Can the means and the ends even be considered separately, or are they just two pieces of one whole?
I said just a few entries ago, “So many little things that can be altered for good or bad, but without them, I’m not me.” If I had the chance to alter certain events in my past, there would be those I would alter. But, I would do so at the expense of who I am today. Maybe I’d be better. Maybe I’d just be different. Maybe all it would take to be entirely comfortable with all of my past, mistakes and all, is just Nietzsche’s thought from Twilight of the Idols: “I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things.” Of course, then I also need to prove all things are necessary, so maybe that isn’t the way to go. To come back to Groundhog Day, as Phil has Nancy on his lap on my iPad screen, this particular day never happens for Nancy. She never has to live the next day when her new fiancé leaves her behind to return to Pittsburgh (well, unless there’s an alternate universe corresponding with each of Phil’s days, but let’s assume not, for now). Phil must live with his actions, but Nancy doesn’t. Daughton argues, “Connors-as-morally-bankrupt-hedonist convinces us of his worthlessness as a person by perfecting the art of psychological date rape.” Taken at this worst, Phil must live with being a date rapist, even if circumstance has made his crime literally victimless. He is the victim of his own worst behavior, just as I am of mine, and you are of yours. The good does not come from us forgetting what we have done, but remembering, from knowing that we are capable of actions that are, perhaps, examples of absolute bad. Or even the small things we do, like Phil using his sarcasm to wound, like snide comments we might make to those toward which we may feel disdain—even these things hurt us even as they hurt others.
Michael Faust, at Philosophy Now, referencing Nietzsche’s idea of eternal recurrence, says, “No great affirmation of life is possible than to wish every part of it to return forever. The moment of affirmation is the sublime moment when a person can look at his life, no matter what it consists of—good, bad, or indifferent—and find within himself the desire never to be freed from any aspect of it.” I know I’m not there yet.
Dr. David Lavery cites the poet Rilke in “‘Same-o, Same-o’: Eternal Recurrence in Groundhog Day.” Rilke, he says,
…thought that if we fail to grow as human beings, if we fail to have a perfect spring, it is because we avoid the difficulties of a ‘pure winter.’ A ‘pure winter’ enables us to store up growth for those great leaps into the unknown which are a prerequisite to true growth. Groundhog Day is about Phil Connors’ pure winter—his ‘long and lustrous winter’ in Punxsutawney.
Perhaps, Lavery was thinking of these lines from Rilke’s The Sonnets to Orpheus, part 2, sonnet 13:
Be ahead of all parting, as if it had already happened.
like winter, which even now is passing.
For beneath the winter is a winter so endless
that to survive it at all is a triumph of the heart.
Film Phil has to bottom out with suicidal depression after failing to seduce Rita. Second revision Phil has to bottom out partying with sluts in his room at the bed and breakfast. We all must, to be driven to improve, find ourselves in need of improvement. Whether we hit bottom of just sink a little below the surface, it is perhaps in our darkest hour that the possibility of a bright future shines its brightest and its clearest. As Hesse’s Siddhartha thinks,
I have had to experience so much stupidity, so many vices, so much error, so much nausea, disillusionment and sorrow, just in order to become a child again and begin anew. But it was right that it should be so; my eyes and heart acclaim it. I had to experience despair, I had to sink to the greatest mental depths, to thoughts of suicide, in order to experience grace… to sleep deeply again and to awaken refreshed again… I had to sin in order to live again.
Today’s reason to repeat a day forever: to feel, perhaps, Nietzsche’s “eternal joy of becoming,” to know who I am fully and completely, even the bad parts, and love myself anyway.