I’ve always known my mom and dad as being separate entities. They’ve been divorced since I was a baby, so I never knew them as being a single force divided by quarreling, they’ve just always been two individuals who happen to share a child. When you grow up viewing your parents as independent of one another, on the occasions they do share commonalities, these things regardless of how random, seem like a big deal.
One of the first shared interests I noticed was how much both of my parents love Groundhog Day, the Bill Murray philosophical flick from all-around awesome Buddhist, Harold Ramis. For those who haven’t seen or don’t remember, Phil Connors, played by Bill Murray is a self-serving narcissist who hates humankind and doesn’t lift a finger to even try to be nice to others. One fateful day, he gets stuck in a small town where he repeats the same day over and over again until he eventually starts living his life differently.
As a kid, I didn’t get it. It was okay. I neither loved nor hated this movie. It’s one of those films that despite being appropriate for younger audiences to some degree, the film just doesn’t appeal to kids the way it does to parents. But this is true of many movies when you’re a kid, so I never really questioned it until I got older.
Two years out of college, I asked a co-worker at a job I’d been working for a few months if he felt his daily life mimicked that of Office Space. I was beginning to realize how accurate that movie was in depicting adult existence (it’s worth noting that this is another movie my dad loves). “I feel like my life is less like Office Space and more like Groundhog Day,” he responded.
It’s been very cold the last 3 weeks, and last night as I lie awake in bed unable to sleep due to chronic pain worsened by chilly temperatures and the crippling depression that surrounds the condition, I realized why my parents, and maybe so many other people, enjoy Groundhog Day.
A few years ago, I watched a fantastic review of this movie online that described the transformation of character of Phil Connors and the meaning of Groundhog Day. I can’t do it justice, and I’m going to take a different angle anyway, but if I find it, I’ll post the link.
The majority of the movie Groundhog Day is what it feels like to have depression. When it first starts, Phil is irritated by what he perceives is a practical joke. “We already did this,” he says, then later in the day states, “It must be some bad dream!” His reactions begin to take on the 7 stages of grief as he is confronted by a loss of control. Not only is he stuck in a situation he doesn’t know how to change, but he longs to be as oblivious as those around him to the truth that their world is the same. Shouldn’t he be as happy and content as these lovable fools? He is trapped not only in an outwardly stagnant world but with his unbearable inner voice, the creeping suspicion that he may be a bad person, and the fear that no one will love him, specifically his boss with whom he loves.
He also tries to kill himself over and over again. In his conceivably infinite loop, he does not succeed, but this can describe depression too–feeling like you are dying or want to die without actually doing so.
Of course, the film is about becoming a better person. Phil turns over a new leaf and becomes a better man after the old him eventually gets melted away in the passage of living the same day over and over. Something had to change, and our inner selves are capable of it, even if it doesn’t feel that way. Still, the majority of the film mimics the range of emotions someone with depression feels: anxiety, anger, hopelessness, isolation, self-loathing, sadness, guilt, and boredom. Phil eventually begins his journey to become a better person, but he doesn’t do it alone. His co-workers and the people of the town get to him and change him.
Hopefully, those of you who are out there who suffer from depression know that you don’t have to do this alone either.