Do you ever take a mental inventory of yourself, thinking about areas where you could improve? I did that this week when I got a text message from my oldest brother. He is probably the greatest man I have ever known, and I’ve always looked up to him as the model for how to be happy and successful in life. Quite spontaneously this week, he texted me to say he’s proud of me. He has witnessed many of my ups and downs in life, and he’s perfectly aware of my immaturity in previous years, so it means a lot to me that he can look past all that to say that what I have become is worthy of praise.
When he told me that, I thanked him and then pondered on two questions: am I a good person, and what is my nature? I was often quick to anger in my youth, and I have offended many people as a result. But I’ve always felt bad about my behavior on those occasions, and I’ve done my best to seek forgiveness and reconciliation with the people I’ve hurt. So I was able to conclude that I’m imperfect and have a lot of room to improve, but the fact that I always want to be better and be kinder to people means that my nature is ultimately good. It’s my nature to be positive and thoughtful, and whenever I go contrary to that I feel bad because I intuitively recognize it’s not what I want to be.
The Nature of Phil Connors
This brings me to the subject of today’s article: Phil Connors. At the start of Groundhog Day, it’s easy to mistake Phil Connors for a rude, egotistical prima-donna. When a fellow news anchor wishes him well, he immediately insults her and declares his lofty aspirations as though he were better than everyone around him. But then notice what happens when he sees his new producer Rita for the first time.
We get a brief glimpse of Phil’s true nature when he first lays eyes on Rita. You see, Phil’s nature is to be good and selfless, but he’s buried it under layers of cynicism and selfishness. We understand why he’s become so hardened because of how Larry treats him. The whole movie, he and Larry trade verbal jabs. It might be a self-fulfilling prophecy for him to expect others to treat him badly because that’s how he treats others. But for whatever reason he has decided that the only way to guard his sensitive heart is to put on a mean face.
Phil has survived many years this way, but God or fate has decided that this Groundhog Day is the day for him to finally change. This is a pivotal day for a lot of people in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. And Phil must become the right kind of man to fix their problems and set the world on the path it needs to follow from that day forward.
Before he can get to that point, he has a lot of learning to do. When he discovers that he gets to repeat the same day again and again while everyone else remains oblivious, his selfish side has a field day, indulging in every kind of debauchery he can think of. But over time the novelty wears off, so he tries pretending he’s a good person to win the heart of Rita. But she sees right through him every time. Each rejection grinds him down until he comes to a moment of crisis. His mind is so set that he’s not a good person that he decides he’d rather die than destroy his façade. So he kills himself day after day, attempting to end his painful existence. When even that doesn’t work, he drops the pretense of being selfish, and he justifies his continued existence as though he were a god. He explains all of this to Rita in this memorable scene.
He’s still fooling himself, though. He knows he’s not good enough for Rita. He admits that his transformation started when he first saw her. Even though it took him a long time to come to terms with it, he recognizes that that was the first time his soft heart began to shine through his tough exterior. The final emotional barrier comes crashing down, and he embraces his true nature.
From that moment on, Phil sets about doing good and finds himself feeling much happier than he ever felt when he only served himself and manipulated others into thinking he was more important than he actually was. There’s no glory in pretending he’s something he’s not. Even when he managed to fool other people, he always knew the truth. The only way for him to be happy is to be authentic and not fear what others might think of him. Phil knew that what he was doing was wrong through the first half of the film, which is why he was always so snarky and defensive. Only when he stops pretending and starts actually being good does he stop feeling the need to justify himself to others.
A Humbling Lesson
Phil helps everyone in his power to help. He becomes the most popular man in town by simply serving others in their times of need. He saves lives, fixes a flat tire, heals a man’s back, saves a marriage, and does many other good deeds. But he remains humble through it all because he understands that he is not a god after all. Sometimes people just die, as he powerfully learns when he is unable to prevent a homeless man from dying no matter how much he feeds him and assists him. No one else would have even noticed the old man’s passing if it weren’t for Phil having experienced this day so many times. It turns out that this day isn’t all about Phil. While Phil has been partying, goofing off, learning, growing, and even killing himself out of despair, this old man has been dying alone and unloved every night. It’s a chastening lesson to learn that there is a power far greater than Phil at work here.
The Last Day
On his last Groundhog Day, Phil rights all the wrongs in town and ensures everyone ends up in the best possible position so that time can finally move forward again. He, and everyone else, is in the right place. He isn’t afraid to be his true self and allow his old ways to go by the wayside.
Groundhog Day is a film that inspires people to be the best versions of themselves. If a man like Phil Connors can reveal himself to be a kind man underneath his mean exterior, surely we can all shed our own weaknesses and cease allowing them to keep us down. It’s worth a shot.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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