twelve years of catholic school talking
In "How to Create a Hollywood Christ-Figure: Sacred Storytelling as Applied Theology" Anton Karl Kozlovic (2009) lays out 25 "structural elements of the cinematic Christ-figure." First, he defines the Christ-figure as "the cinematic transfiguration of Jesus Christ from page to projected image." Of the 25 elements, Kozlovic explains:
Of course, not all of [them] must exist in the one character, or in the one film, or at any one time to qualify as a legitimate Christ-figure, but the more of them, the stronger the christic [sic] construction, the more profound the holy resonance and the better the sacred storytelling parallels.
So, let's keep this simple, run down Kozlovic's list and see how Phil Connors matches up.
1: "Christ-figures are usually tangible, visible, and colourful characters..." Phil is definitely tangible and visible. And, it would be difficult to suggest that he's not colorful as well. His jokes and his antics make him quite colorful.
2: "Christ-figures are the central protagonists and/or objects of concern within the narrative..." Another simple one--Phil is, no doubt, the central protagonist of Groundhog Day.
3: "...Christ-figures are typically outsiders and somewhat vaguely defined as 'from above' or 'beyond' or 'not around here'... literally in the world but not of the world." Danny Rubin designed the character of Phil Connors deliberately as an outsider to Punxsutawney, and regardless of how we see him Phil early on certainly sees himself as being above the people of the town.
4: "Christ-figures usually arrive onto the scene through some form of deliberate outside intervention, sometimes by a distant God-figure." Phil comes to Punxsutawney on behalf of PBH. I'm not suggesting PBH is God (especially since I often like to suggest the bartender at the Pennsylvanian is God) but it is certainly a form of outside intervention, Phil's assignment.
5: "Christ-figures... usually have alter egos or dual identities, one mundane and the other fantastic." This one doesn't really apply, except maybe in the duality of Phil as weatherman and Phil as good deeds savior (though that last word gets a little ahead of the point here). Still, 4/5 good points so far.
6: "Christ-figures are very special, rare and unusual beings although they typically appear as normal humans doing mundane activities throughout their normal working lives." Phil's life has become quite abnormal, of course, but still, picture him sitting in the diner, having a generic conversation with Rita at the beginning of what I call "date night." Now, compare that (seemingly) mundane Phil with Phil on "god day" when he's showing off his impressive knowledge of the townspeople; this is Phil as a very "rare and unusual" being, but still appearing normal.
7: "...Christ-figures sometimes have this iconic number of twelve intimate friends-cum-associates... Christ-figure films... usually have a lesser number of Apostle-figures to avoid overly complicating the storyline, or if they all exist, most take a backseat to the christic [sic] hero and the more prominent Apostle-figures..." I just had to make this one fit, so I worked backward. First, I disqualified the man with the red hat as the devil, the bartender as God, Mary the piano teacher and Mrs. Lancaster as two sides of Phil's mother figure, AKA Mary, and the old man O'Reilly as Phil's father figure, AKA Joseph. Then, I disqualified Nancy Taylor separately per Kozlovic's #10--"Mary Magdalene-figures"--and Rita (and this one you will probably think iffy) per Kozlovic's #9--"Judas-figures"--and per Kozlovic's #11--"John the Baptist-figures." So, then, I looked to the party scene and which characters approach Phil because of their personal associations, some more important to the film than others, but all having some value to Phil. You've got Buster and his wife, Felix and his wife, Debbie and Fred, Doris, the old ladies, Larry. There's obviously Ned, perhaps the Chubby Man in the Hallway, and Rita (if she doesn't fit the other two positions I've given her). And, not an Apostle, but it occurred to me that the boy who falls from the tree could easily be Zaccheus--and I will probably start calling him as such in future entries.
8: "Sometimes, Christ-figures are constructed to match biblical specifications so closely that they begin their 'divine' mission when they reach the mystical age of 'thirty,' that is, the biblical age when Jesus started doing his Father's will..." In How to Write Groundhog Day, Danny Rubin says, "I originally imagined this story as a young man’s journey through life, like Siddhartha. A twenty-eight-year-old man mired in a life of shallow relationships and superficial aspirations was perfectly understandable to me as a similarly aged man when I wrote it." It's not thirty, per se, but it's close. However, by the time Bill Murray was cast and the film was shot, Phil Connors was not longer the young man. Billy Murray, depending on when exactly filming happened--which is a detail I should probably know by now--was 42 or so. So, this one doesn't quite fit the film version but does it Rubin's original script.
9: "Christ-figures can be identified and their sacred functions buttressed by subtextual characters closely related to them. A particularly famous class of holy associates are the cinematic Judas-figures." There is no clear Judas in Groundhog Day but I put at least a little bit of Rita here because of all those slaps. It's not betrayal as such, but her turn against Phil significantly alters the direction of his journey nonetheless.
10: "Another famous class of holy associates that help identify and buttress Christ-figures are the Mary Magdalene-figures... sexually tagged women..." I put Nancy Taylor here for obvious reasons. I would also include Laraine to a lesser degree and all those other "available" women in Rubin's original as well. Primarily, this is Nancy Taylor, though there is also some Rita here as well because, as Kozlovic explains, "Sexual consummation of such relationships are denies according to Scripture, or are repeatedly delayed to generate sexual tension until eventually given in too [sic] according to the Jesus-Magdalene marriage mythology..." Note, though, Phil was engaged to Nancy, at least briefly.
11: "Another class of famous holy associates are the John the Baptist-figures who exist to prophetically point the way to the Christ-figures..." I put Rita here primarily because of "god day" and the "science experiment" bit of her interaction with Phil. As the news producer, she wants to know and understand Phil's predicament. And, were the time loop to end there, Rita would have certainly wanted, at least one some level, to tell Phil's story and promote whatever he might have learned up to that point.
12: "One of the ultimate and unmistakeable identifiers of Christ-figures is when they 'die,' frequently cruelly and then miraculously come back to life again as good-as-new, if not better." Take Phil's series of deaths at the center of the film and this one makes Phil almost more of a Christ-figure than the biblical Christ who only dies once.
And, on that note, this exploration of Phil as Christ-figure will come to an end for today. But, it will continue.
Today's reason to repeat a day forever: to know who I am from as many different angles as this.