Thursday, July 02, 2009

Groundhog Day and the Right to be a Curmudgeon

A very interesting discussion of the movie Groundhog Day by Vince Manapat.

Everyone likes Groundhog Day. But have we really understood this movie for what it is? As a child, I thought I was watching a story about a man who is given an opportunity to fix everything that is wrong with his life. But when I watched this movie again as I an adult I realized that this perennial family favorite was about something entirely different: the total destruction of an individual identity by an unrelenting and insipid petty bourgeois culture.

In the beginning of the movie, we see a man (Phil Conners) who grants no quarter to all that is phony and spurious in the people around him. For instance, he thinks Larry, his driver, is unintelligent and beneath him, but rather than pretend that he cares for Larry he treats him in such a way that reveals his true feeling. Indeed, this could be said about all of his interactions with other characters: the way he treats people corresponds to the way he feels about them (a cardinal sin in middle class American life). It is harsh but it is also honest. He is intensely critical of other people and he has little enthusiasm for the things that make common people happy. This is how Phil has chosen to live, and his adherence to this way of life is an endorsement of it. It is a legitimate and even laudable way to live one’s life, but alas, it cannot always survive in environments hostile to it.
The rest is well worth the read, but the crucial point is that there are differences between the characters of Phil Connors and Ebenezer Scrooge. Groundhog Day is clearly an updated version of A Christmas Carol, but where Scrooge was not merely curmudgeonly, but malicious in his treatment of his employee and those around him, Larry is merely distastefully arrogant and blunt.

Vince's question can be re-asked as do we have a right to be a curmudgeon? Sure, it's nice to be sunny and helpful, but do we have to be? he was not much fun to be around, but he wasn't harming anyone? It wasn't a crime of behavior of of will, he did not wish well for others. But do we have to?