Stories on the Takeaway have all kinds of origins. There are host pitches, obvious news stories, monster bookings, weird obscure stuff (my personal favorites) and the millions of great ideas that our staff comes up with. Then there is the occasional asteroid, a story that is whirling out there that seems possibly misguided, a rogue: destructive, preposterous, awkward, or worse, embarrassing. “Where did this story come from?” was my question about the idea that we were going to talk about the religious significance of the movie 'Groundhog Day' on the holiday Groundhog Day, February 2nd. What religious significance? I was imagining the crackpots who would come into the show with Bill Murray masks or with their hair all done up like Andie MacDowell, or worst of all Groundhog Day costar Chris Elliot would show up in a trench coat with a Bible in hand talking about his past lives.
Fortunately, the calm, cool and collected Mary Harris just patiently tells me that the whole thing has been handled. We booked the screenwriter, Danny Rubin, Mary told me. I could only imagine what he thought of this religious repurposing of his film.
There was also an NYU professor who taught the movie as part of a religion and media course. She would be on the show. Apparently she finds people from numerous religions who embrace the pagan roots of the whole Groundhog Day ritual. Others embrace the repetition plot twist as a parable about wanting to go back and correct the mistakes in one’s life. Buddists apparently embrace the repetition thread as part of the value of imagining life as a narrative of constant improvement. There is a little of the Old Testament's Book of Job in there, along with some Christian-style redemption. What’s amazing is that it’s the movie driving this, not that famous rodent of the Pittsburgh exurbs, 'Punxatawney Phil,' who predicts the weather. The Wiccans even have a piece of this.
I began to look at clips of the movie and sure enough, the whole religious parable thread began to stand out like some shiny, colorful embroidery. There was the ego-maniac caught in his own world forced to live in a world of repetition only he could perceive. When he tried to use this odd power of knowing what is going to happen each time he wakes up on Groundhog Day to his advantage, he becomes more miserable. Only by letting his situation teach him something about life does he find some peace.
I enjoyed the movie when I originally saw it. It was terrifically entertaining to look at the clips again. I was just starting out in TV when Groundhog Day came out, back in 1993, so I lived the crazy relationships between the on air correspondent and producer and camera crews. I remembered the lunacy of television and the egomaniacs in front of and behind the cameras. There were all the hard working producers and crews who actually got all the pictures and rolled their eyes at the bizarre antics of 'the talent.' Television was like the movie. Every day the alarm rings and you go off to cover some story. In the beginning they were usually pretty significant. By the end of my time in TV, more than a decade later, it was often the same pointless story over and over again. Being in television was like Bill Murray’s predicament. It was like being trapped in time. But then much of life is like that. Hey, Rabbi Danny Rubin, I’m getting this. The quality of life is getting it right or coming as close as you can every time you get a shot.
I could see where this was going. I was suddenly so excited to do the segment.
It was a great subject, a great conversation and a great segment on the air. Now next time I start to harangue some producer on The Takeaway about an unusual story on the rundown I’ll think of Bill Murray and Groundhog Day. I don’t want to end up like him.
Groundhog Day (the movie) teaches that TV weathermen don’t have to behave like rodents, that the quality of any event comes from one’s faith in its importance, not what it delivers to you personally and that movie star Andie Macdowell is really, really attractive. But we already knew all that.
Spoken like a Buddhist….. eh?