What I Learned from Bill Murray
Did you watch “Groundhog Day” on Saturday? I did. I do every year. Some people love it because it’s Bill Murray at his funniest (and Andi McDowall at her cutest). Some people love it because it’s an annual tradition to watch it. Me, I love it because I learn from it every single time, the lessons I thought I’d learned and mastered on the last viewing. This isn’t just a basic story of a jerk who gets put on hold until he learns not to be a jerk. It’s a metaphor for the human journey itself.
I have little to no control over my circumstances.
Try as he might, Bill/Phil can’t change anything: the inevitable blizzard, the tray of dishes that gets smashed at the Tip Top, the ice cold shower at his bed-and-breakfast—or the fact that every day, his life is exactly the same as the day before (and set to the tune of “I Got You, Babe”).
I have little to no control over the actions of others.
No matter how many details Bill gleans over time about Andi/Rita, he still can’t force her to love him. In fact, the harder he tries, the worse it gets. In a delightful montage, she slaps him—over and over and over again.
Inauthenticity doesn’t cut it.
While Bill is busy sucking up to Andi, he pretends to like her favorite drink (sweet vermouth with a twist—and as an aside here…yuck!), to want to live in the mountains “at high altitude,” and to be intimately familiar with 19th century French poetry. She’s surprised, but not completely charmed. In fact, she eventually finds this as creepy as it actually is.
I got me, babe.
Yep, that song wasn’t chosen randomly or just because its chorus is a superb earworm. When it comes down to it, all I have is me, and that’s where I have a splendid banquet of choices. Once Bill stops trying to ingratiate himself with Andi to serve himself, he learns to serve the world: saving a falling boy from a tree, a man (played by his brother, Brian Doyle Murray) from choking, changing a tire, convincing a reluctant bride to marry, and even buying a boatload of insurance from the former-classmate-from-hell Ned Ryerson. In doing so, he gains far more personal satisfaction than from anything he sought purely for his own benefit.
Ultimately, the movie is about personal growth, from a place of pure ego and manipulation to acceptance that the past is done, the future far from guaranteed, and that all any of us have is the present day—the present moment, even—and what we choose to do with it.
So, even though the day has passed—for Bill/Phil as well as for the rest of us, Happy Groundhog Day. What will you do to be a better person, have a better experience, in this moment?