Tuesday, February 2, 2021

A "Groundhog Day" With No End

I’ve mentioned before that our family has a habit of associating certain days with movies. I’d like to say our movie habits are traditions, but we don’t follow through every year. The 1776 movie on July 4? Usually happens. A Lord of the Rings marathon over Thanksgiving weekend? We put that one on hold when our kiddo was younger, but now she sits with us through all three extended-edition films. On the other hand, we usually watch It’s a Wonderful Life on Christmas, but some of us just weren’t feeling it this year, so it didn’t happen.

Another one that’s hit-and-miss is watching Groundhog Day on, well, Groundhog Day. It’s long been one of my favorite films, filled as it is with messages of perseverance and learning lessons and being your best self. We managed to make time for the film this year. But like a lot of things that used to hold meaning for me, this year it just left me feeling empty.

Curious if anyone else had shared some recent thoughts on the movie, I came across a few articles that framed it in terms of COVID Worldnow that we’re all stuck inside looking at each other and doing the same stuff every day, we can refocus on those close to us, appreciate the small things, and remember to keep wearing that useless mask. Ugh. No, thanks. That just perpetuates the garbage narrative that any of these lockdowns and mandates were ever necessary or beneficial in the first place. All they’ve done is added misery and stomped on our liberties.

For those who haven’t seen the movie, Groundhog Day revolves around a Pittsburgh TV weatherman named Phil, played by Bill Murray, who gets stuck in a time loop, having to live Feb. 2 over and over again. Phil is an insufferable jerk who resents having to go to Punxsutawney to cover the annual groundhog celebration. He hates the small-town hicks. He hates the brain-numbing stupidity of the ceremony. He hates his job and wants to move to a bigger market. He trudges through the day, gets stuck overnight in Punxsutawney because of a blizzard, and wakes up the next morning only to find it’s not the next morning.

Phil deals with his predicament first with confusion and terror. Then he decides to live with reckless abandon, since whatever he does will simply be erased the next day anyway. But when self-indulgence and manipulation don’t win him the love of the TV station’s producer who’s stuck in town with him, he falls into a deadly depression. Only after a series of suicides don’t break the cycle does he stop trying to break the cycle at all. Instead, he tries to make the best of the situation by bettering himself and turning himself outward to help others. Every day for presumably years and years, for example, he saves the same boy falling out of the same tree. He takes the time to get to know his co-workers and the small-town folks, and as his abrasiveness begins to melt away, so those around him come to love him for the kind and selfless person they now know him as.

For those around him, this all happens in the stretch of a single day. But for Phil, it’s taken him ages to finally get it right. There’s an obvious connection here to the idea of reincarnation — you have to keep coming back, lifetime after lifetime, until you get things right, and only then can you be released from the wheel of birth, suffering, and death that we’re all stuck on. Symbolically, we all get a chance at a fresh start every morning we wake up. We can do things better today than we did yesterday.

But what do you do when your best doesn’t do a thing to change the world around you? What do you do with a world that was conditioned into believing that locking down over a virus with a 99%-plus survival rate was necessary, and where anyone who challenges the narrative is seen as the bad guy? What do you do when you live in a nation whose citizens are being conditioned to see half of their countrymen as terrorists, and cheering for ever-increasing witch hunts and assaults on free speech disguised as a fight against “hate” and “misinformation”?

We’re not stuck in a time loop. We’re stuck in a nightmare that gets worse with every passing day. Am I supposed to sing and dance and pretend that it doesn’t affect my life and those of my loved ones?

I think that’s why the movie left me cold this year. Being the good guy might bring you redemption if you’re the Grinch or Ebenezer Scrooge or Phil the Weatherman, but in real life it gets you a kick in the nuts if you’re lucky. And when your once free country is rapidly devolving around you into a totalitarian dictatorship, it’s hard to put on a happy face when you know what the consequences could be for you and your family — and especially, in my case, when I ponder what kind of miserable world my poor daughter is going to have to grow up in.

Looking at things from that point of view probably explains why the most emotional moment of the movie to me this year was the moment when Phil realized he couldn’t save the old homeless man from dying. Once he’d decided to better himself, Phil stopped ignoring the man he’d passed by day after day. At first he gave the man money. Then he took him to the local hospital to get him checked out and fixed up. But the man died anyway, with the nurse assuring Phil that it was just the old man’s time to go. By this time determined that he had god-like powers to right all the wrongs of the day, Phil kept helping the old man, at one point taking him to the local diner in hopes that filling his empty belly would help. But nothing he did made a difference, as the man still died before the day was over.

I started to tear up at the scene when Phil is trying frantically to resuscitate the old man in an alley. That’s when it finally hits Phil that he can’t change the man’s fate, just as no one could change his. Such is the reality we live in: No matter how good we think we are, no matter how many great deeds we do, in the end death still comes and there’s nothing you can really do to change the world in the long run. Maybe you’ll be remembered as a hero for a day or a week or a year, and maybe if you’re lucky the history books will have nice things to say about you. But in the end, it all fades away and things go to hell anyway.

With all that remained of my spiritual life having been shattered over the past year, I find little hope to cling to from one day to the next. We’re here on this planet for the blink of an eye, and the next thing you know, someone is wandering through a cemetery, looking at your tombstone, and wondering if there’s anyone still alive who even knows that you ever existed.

The only thing that gives me a glimmer of hope is the idea that none of this might be real in the first place — that we’re living in some kind of insane simulation, making this world little more than a practical joke pulled by someone tapping into our brainwaves. In a world where Black Lives Matter can be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, after an entire summer of riots that left over $2 billion in damage, homes destroyed, businesses burned to the ground, neighborhoods laid to waste, statues pulled down, and numerous people injured and dead, part of you has to think that the world couldn’t be more upside-down, that this can’t possibly be real, that we’re all being punked somehow. Really, could our existence get any more absurd?

Maybe I should make The Matrix part of my annual birthday tradition. I’m not sure if it will bring some comfort, allowing me to laugh at the irrational hellscape we live in, or if it will just deepen the despair of knowing that we’re all trapped in a simulation that we can never hope to escape, like a mental Hotel California.

If we are trapped in a Matrix, I can only assume the programmers must have fallen asleep and let the hackers unleash chaos on the system. Won’t someone try shutting it down and rebooting it? Please?

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