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February 03, 2005

"And when I say that the groundhog is Jesus, I say that with great respect."

Do you suppose that video rental places experience a one-day run on the Bill Murray movie "Groundhog Day" each February 2nd? I haven't seen the movie in years, but after reading what Jonah Goldberg has to say about it, I think I need to watch it again.

When the Museum of Modern Art in New York debuted a film series on "The Hidden God: Film and Faith" two years ago, it opened with Groundhog Day. The rest of the films were drawn from the ranks of turgid and bleak intellectual cinema, including standards from Ingmar Bergman and Roberto Rossellini. According to the New York Times, curators of the series were stunned to discover that so many of the 35 leading literary and religious scholars who had been polled to pick the series entries had chosen Groundhog Day that a spat had broken out among the scholars over who would get to write about the film for the catalogue. In a wonderful essay for the Christian magazine Touchstone, theology professor Michael P. Foley wrote that Groundhog Day is "a stunning allegory of moral, intellectual, and even religious excellence in the face of postmodern decay, a sort of Christian-Aristotelian Pilgrim's Progress for those lost in the contemporary cosmos." Charles Murray, author of Human Accomplishment, has cited Groundhog Day more than once as one of the few cultural achievements of recent times that will be remembered centuries from now. He was quoted in The New Yorker declaring, "It is a brilliant moral fable offering an Aristotelian view of the world."

Oh. Er, . . . geez, I love it when films are all multivalent and stuff, but . . . Groundhog Day?

I know what you're thinking: We're talking about the movie in which Bill Murray tells a big rat sitting on his lap, "Don't drive angry," right? Yep, that's the one. You might like to know that the rodent in question is actually Jesus — at least that's what film historian Michael Bronski told the Times. "The groundhog is clearly the resurrected Christ, the ever-hopeful renewal of life at springtime, at a time of pagan-Christian holidays. And when I say that the groundhog is Jesus, I say that with great respect."

You know, I've had this idea of starting up a film discussion group at my church. Sort of like one of those ubiquitous book clubs, but with movies instead of novels. Film, after all, is simply a modern way of storytelling, and I suspect that people go to more movies each year than they read books. So why not a movie-watching-and-discussion group? The format allows everyone to experience them simultaneously, and because they're short, the viewing and discussion can all take place in the same evening.

So I'm going to try to run a film discussion group, with the idea of discussing movies as both works of art and a presentation of the filmmaker's worldview.

After reading the above, I may have to include "Groundhog Day." If nothing else, I certainly want to see it again now.

But I'd also like some advice. What other films would make for good discussions -- both of the filmmaker's technique, and of the themes? I'm trying to avoid films that everyone will have already seen, or if immensely popular, will have seen recently. I'm also hoping to discuss the thematic elements with regard to the Christian worldview. I'd be interested in hearing your suggestions in the comments below.

Posted by Drew at February 3, 2005 12:31 AM



In the comments to Joe's post at EO on the Left Behind series there are a few movies discussed that I've never heard of. They look interesting.

Groundhog Day is quite simply a fantastic movie. True, you have to put up with Andie MacDowell, but it's great. I've been wanting to see it again ever since I read Jonah's column.

I must admit that I like The Family Man. Actually, that movie has a pretty similar plot to Groundhog Day.

Posted by: Mark Sides at February 3, 2005 01:19 AM

Group Magazine (magazine for christian youth groups) has been doing this format since the 80's. They may have some interesting insight for you. It used to be a monthly column geared to discussing current films with regard to the Christian viewpoint.

Posted by: BigFinn at February 3, 2005 01:22 AM

Kenneth Lonergan's "You Can Count on Me" is a beautiful film, and while it's not written unequivocally from a Christian perspective, it's a rare recent movie that is intelligent and that takes the religious perspective seriously. To me, one of the highlights of the film is a conversation that Terry, one of the main characters, has with his sister's minister (whom his sister has called out of concern for the aimlessness of Terry's life); the minister begins by asking Terry if he feels his life is important . . .

The minister doesn't have all the answers here, but neither does Terry (nor, for that matter, does his sister Sammy), and the final note of the film is sort of ambiguous and melancholy, but that's what makes it great art. It doesn't try to proselytize, but it recognizes that questions about how to live one's life -- about how to live a good life -- are among the most important we can ask ourselves.

Off of the top of my head, I can think of a few other movies that I think have taken religious/spiritual issues seriously, but some of them are very R-rated and I don't know whether they'd be appropriate for the kind of group you're envisioning.

Some ideas:

The Seventh Seal
Babe (if you think of it as having elements of religious allegory)
The Exorcist
The Last Days of Disco
I Am David
In America
Whistle Down the Wind

Posted by: Kate Marie at February 3, 2005 04:28 AM

Mark, I have never thought of Andie McDowell as a burden! More like a blessing!

Posted by: Drew at February 3, 2005 07:54 AM

Can't go wrong with The Sandlot.

Posted by: Smith Lilley at February 3, 2005 08:22 AM

Ditto on Sandlot, it is a great movie.

Drew, whilst Ms. MacDowell is nice looking, I must admit that I think she is not one of the better actresses, although she's not as bad as some others.

Posted by: Mark Sides at February 3, 2005 08:51 AM

Andie McDowell is the only thing that makes "Hudson Hawk" even remotely watchable. (I suppose that's what's known as "damning with faint praise.")

Posted by: Drew at February 3, 2005 09:28 AM

I was up late one night, turned on the cable TV, and found myself watching The Seventh Seal. Enthralling, but not enough to keep me awake after 3:00AM. I'm going to have to rent it sometime and see the ending (though I have a good guess where it was going.)

If you want a quirky but strangely though-provoking film that touches on the terrible questions, how about Joe vs. The Volcano?

Posted by: Kent at February 3, 2005 11:22 AM

My picks would include "Chariots of Fire," "Escape to Witch Mountain," "Tender Mercies," "Places in the Heart," "The Third Miracle," "The Green Mile," and "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles"

Posted by: Patrick O'Hannigan at February 3, 2005 12:20 PM

Three movies definitely come to mind for me:

  • “i, Robot” - The plot revolves around the idea of protecting humans from harm vs. free will.
  • “The Matrix” - The brothers who made it have obviously studied philosophy and the movie is rich in it, both in fascinating ways that parallel the Bible and in errors.
  • “Van Helsing” - Though it’s really a fun movie, this one is most notable for one glaring error: the idea that only evil can defeat evil.

Posted by: Ed "What the" Heckman at February 3, 2005 12:32 PM

If you want to see a strange detective thriller, check out "Cure". It's a Kurosawa film and it's all about identity. The theme is explored in ingenious ways. Also, Kurosawa likes to play with film space. He uses space in his shots in interesting ways. In "Cure" you may notice something about how he uses space that is not in the camera frame...

It's in Japanese with subtitles though, so if you don't like that, tough.

Posted by: Phil Aldridge at February 3, 2005 12:59 PM

I recommend "The War" with Kevin Costner and Elijah Wood. It's a great story about real peace.

There's also "Multiplicity". It has some good messages about priorities and hubris.

Posted by: Chris Naron at February 3, 2005 03:11 PM

When I saw this thread, I had an inner squeal with delight. Since "Groundhog Day" was released I have recommended it to many friends as a Buddhist classic. BTW - I'm Buddhist. I find it interesting that Christians read into it a Christian message, Buddhists a Buddhist message, etc.

Bill Murray's character goes through the typical evolutionary path in the Buddhist world-view. First, denial that rebirth exists, then fighting it, then using it to manipulate others, then using it to become spiritually free.

Murray tried to make a serious Buddhist classic, but failed miserably with "The Razor's Edge". When he returned to his comedic roots, he had a hit on his hands.

I'd be interested in knowing what Christian parallels you see in the film.

Posted by: Sonam Wanchug at February 3, 2005 04:45 PM

Just recalled another spiritual favorite, The Mission. Great storytelling about two men joined by circumstance who choose two different paths to God, one with the sword, one with love.

Posted by: Sonam Wanchug at February 3, 2005 04:49 PM

Sonam - sort of like "Franny & Zooey" is essentially Buddhist, but the major text within the story is an Orthodox Christian prayer. I can see Groundhog Day going in either direction. Thanks for reading our site; keep coming back!

Posted by: Matt at February 3, 2005 05:07 PM


I assume you know about Mummon's site? If not, you might want to check it out. He, too, is Buddhist:

Having said that, thanks for stopping by and keep coming back.

Posted by: Mark Sides at February 3, 2005 07:48 PM

Mark - I took your advice and did stop by Mummon's site. Let's see, how do I say this diplomatically - hatred has no place in Buddhism. What's with all the hateful name calling and blaming on his site? I may be mistaken, but I thought Buddhism was all about taking responsibility for one's experience.

I think that as it is with Christianity, thinking that Buddhism is cool is not the same as actually being Buddhist.

And Matt - one of my favorite books is the Way of the Pilgrim - a Russian orthodox classic about the Jesus Prayer. Find it on Amazon at

Posted by: Sonam Wanchug at February 4, 2005 09:38 AM

I have a list of my 105 favorite movies at my blog. Off the top of my head, I'd suggest Life Is Beautiful and The Magnificent Seven.

Posted by: Sherry at February 5, 2005 05:30 PM