Posted in Reading, Teaching

Groundhog Day and Nietzsche

Movies and the Meaning of Life (2005), which includes the essay “What Nietzsche Could Teach You: Eternal Return in Groundhog Day.”

For Monday my Focused Inquiry students will read “What Nietzsche Could Teach You,” which considers the film Groundhog Day (1993) as an illustration of eternal return. It’s an essay I’ve never taught before. I decided to teach it this semester as a way of responding to a suggestion some students offered last spring on their anonymous questionnaires—specifically that we discuss more of the big questions that we ponder throughout our lives.

So, for our first post-Groundhog Day class, we’ll view scenes from the film and consider the evolution of Phil Connors (Bill Murray), from unhappy weatherman living for the future to renascence man happily embracing the present.

According to James H. Spence, author of “What Nietzsche Could Teach You,” Phil Connors’ change signifies his rejection of the Christian view of linear time in which the future gives value to the present. Nietzsche’s alternative, his eternal return, posits that “[r]ather than moving on to a better (or worse, if we are bad) place after this life, we would relive our life over and over again, exactly as we had before” (274).

Today as I meditate on Spence’s essay and on the film, I’m aware of how rarely I live in the moment, and I’m reminded of a line that friend and teacher Doug Jones often says: We teach what we need to learn. We do, Doug. We really do.

Spence, James H. “What Nietzche Could Teach You: Eternal Return in Ground Hog Day.” Movies and the Meaning of Life. Ed. Kimberly A. Blessing and Paul J. Tudico. Chicago: Open Court, 2005. 274.

6 thoughts on “Groundhog Day and Nietzsche

  1. Yes, we seem to be deeply conditioned to either live in the past or to worry about or anticipate the future. Buddhist philosophy also stresses the importance of living in the present.

    1. Thanks, Lenore. Spence’s essay focuses on Nietzsche’s concept of eternal return, but today in class I noted the prevalence of the concept in eastern philosophy and religion. In The Weight of Time, a documentary about Groundhog Day, director Harold Ramis observes that many Buddhists have expressed their admiration for the film.

  2. I love knowing that Buddhists admired the film. When I saw it in first-run, my immediate thought was, “What a Buddhist movie!” This blog post comes at a perfect time for me, as well. The reminder to live in the present (and mine it for its full potential) is very meaningful. And finally, two years ago this time of year, I was just beginning a class with the magnificent Doug Jones. Anyone reading this comment who is looking for a rich creative writing experience should check out Doug’s classes at the Visual Arts Center — he has the miraculous ability to reach writers of all experience levels.

    1. Thanks, Rebecca. I’ve taken three of Doug Jones classes at VisArts: Writing the Shadow, The Creative Spark, and the Nuts and Bolts of Playwriting. He’s an inspiring teacher. And he does have, as you wrote, “the miraculous ability to reach writers of all experience levels.”

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