02 February 2010

Are Groundhogs the New Messiah?

Punxsutawney Phil has predicted another six weeks of winter after seeing his shadow this morning. Yet Staten Island Chuck has declared an end to winter. So, as for their weather-predicting capabilities, groundhogs are no better or worse than the guys on the six o'clock news.

But how does the woodchuck function as a savior of mankind?

In the film Groundhog Day, Bill Murray is stuck repeating the same day over and over again until he squashes his egotistical ways, learns to be compassionate and generous, and accepts others as they are.

In religious terms, he needs to learn how to live life right.

Some argue that the film's premise is a reflection of the Buddhists' notion of "samsara"-the continuing cycle of reincarnation and rebirth that humans must try to escape. Bill Murray becomes the "bodhisattva"- one who reaches the brink of nirvana and returns to save the rest of us.

However the Jews lay claim to the spiritual essence of the film by indicating that Bill Murray must perform good deeds - or "Mitzvahs" in order to break the monotonous cycle.

His reward is not that of a Christian Heaven nor Buddhist Nirvana. Judaism tells us that our work does not end until the world has been perfected.

Some Christian groups also try to seize the metaphysical examples in the film, either by seeing the Groundhog as a resurrected Christ embodying the hope for rebirth at springtime, or by claiming Bill Murray's character as a portrayal of the man reborn into good.

Whatever religion feels the need to see their prophecies depicted in a screenplay, go ahead. For whatever their claim to the plot of Groundhog Day, they may really have something in common with it. As Spiritualist Anthony DeMello once said, "Spirituality means waking up. Most people, even though they don't know it, are asleep." As the film portrays, some of us have more imperfections we need to wake up to than others.

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