Sunday, February 03, 2013

Overspecialization and Misanthropy

A blind nut finds a squirrel now and then. It looks like an observation I left at NRO yesterday rang a few bells there. So far my comment has received 7 thumbs up, and that pleases me. I have already added it to my annual Gorehog Day contempt post, but in hindsight its message deserves more than to be an add-on to some throw-away humor.

Jonah Goldberg had waxed eloquently about the movie "Groundhog Day" nearly a decade ago, and has seen fit to republish it each year on February 2. This was the first year I'd read it, and it struck me that he'd missed something I thought I should share with his audience, and as I implied above, it seems to have struck a harmonious chord there.

I could not help but notice how Goldberg's examination (as have myriad others who've discussed the movie) somehow missed out on one deeper ramification of Bill Murray's character due to him becoming so well versed in so many skills and trades and professions. Knowledge that he was compelled to learn only from all the locals for whom he had nothing but disdain before his nightmare began. There was something more there than him solely transforming from the  the soulless, smart-Alec, weatherman celebrity. The movie provided, maybe unwittingly, what may be an insight as to why someone like him could be transformed.

You might want to consider that Phil Connors has essentially become a Renaissance man by the end of the film. His postmodernist cynicism that accompanies celebrities in particular (famous for usually some specialty, or even for only being well-known) is finally vanquished by him no longer being a narrow specialist.

By engaging in depth in all those other activities, he trashes the contempt our society implies in its appellation "Jack of all trades." After he picks up all that additional depth, we see he begins to respect and love those who are now colleagues of a sort. Most noticeably supplanted is the casual contempt Phil had for others ("hicks") that so many like his former self display towards those who are not a part of ones narrow circle. That is a true love that is apparently vacant in those at the top of our contemporary world.

Those who miss or reject this additional concept really are missing the key on how it is possible to learn love of mankind. In a world where Sustainability is becoming even more worshiped than money, such an outlook offers an antidote.


  1. Good point!
    Try this:
    I've got a few comments there.

  2. Thanks for the lead Ed. I'm thinking about chiming up there where someone said it was his finally achieving the love of Rita that sprung him from his trap. I'd point out it was his learning to love everyone else and get love in return from them that won him Rita. His travail also taught him to love her more deeply (though I find it hard to see why, as the chemistry between Murray and McDowell wasn't quite right from the start), so all his phoniness from his earlier tries completely disappeared.

    But, at least for me, the key to his release appears to be that he'd learned to love others as part of his learning to partake more fully in life. The Greater Power approved.

  3. I would suggest (though this may have been the point of your comments) that the gaining of additional skills/developing other talents, allowed for Murray's character to "love himself" (in an honest way and not out of conceit.). It is only by having a positive sense of self worth, that we are able to love someone else....or so I keep being told.

    1. You are correct Guy. And how was it he increased his worth? By getting help from among the same people he previously dismissed as hicks in order to provide him with his new skills.

      After a series of failures he finally came to appreciate the varied talents of those people and although it's not spelled out, he must also have learned to forgive them their foibles.

      And then there was the matter of his phoniness. That had to be altered as well. In each of the days that Rita saw through all his attempts to seduce her cheaply also served as a stand-in for all the ways the town-folk would also see through him until he began to truly appreciate them.

      In the end he displayed a gratitude for them all. Thus his learning to love them enabled him to learn to love himself. It all came together and Phil finally extricate himself from the endless loop. I think I can see how Harold Ramis' Buddhism affected the script. I would bet reader MNTY could tell me if that were so.

  4. It's suggested that he may have spent hundreds of years in the loop to learn all those skills (one woman referred to him as Dr.) and it's remarkable that there are so many levels to enjoy this movie on.
    My only quibble (arising only yesterday) is what happens to all the characters the next day? When Phil wakes up in the loop, have the other characters moved on wondering what happened to

    1. The actual number of days that we see filmed in the movie (some only seconds long) is only about 35 days. There are additional ones implied too. Like maybe a year of days for him to get proficient at the piano if he lacked native talent (an unknown) -- and that's like 5 years of lessons without the in-between practice sessions.

      I think I can dispel your quibble easy enough. The other characters don't matter to the Phil in the loop (until the last day). He's a solipsist, meaning all the others are simply props to him. Hence it's his trap all alone until he breaks free.

      So it's only him who repeats the day, like he goes back in time, so it's only he who doesn't advance. The others would advance from there following a different series of ripples in that 6th dimension. Nobody else is trapped in there with him. When he finally breaks free, the universe that he continues in benefits from the new Phil. It's kind of happy ending for all except for the practical jokers and misanthropes. ;)

      Yes, I know one of the drunks says on the second go-round that the situation Phil was complaining about (stuck experiencing the same things every day and it making no difference) described his (the drunk's) world pretty well. It was a gag line, not a literal one. :)


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