Charles Murray on Harold Ramis’ ‘Groundhog Day’

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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AEI scholar Charles Murray may be an author and political scientist, but he’s also a movie fan. And this afternoon, we spent some time talking about one of our mutual favorites, Groundhog Day. The occasion, of course, was somber. Harold Ramis, the film’s director, had passed away.

At the end of our conversation, Murray sent me some notes for his forthcoming book, The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead. Among his advice offered in the book (number 34 to be precise) is to “Watch Groundhog Day repeatedly.” Here’s an excerpt from that section:

“Harold Ramis estimates that that the movie has to represent at least thirty or forty years’ worth of days. We see only a few dozen of them, ending when Bill Murray’s character has discovered the secrets of human happiness. Without the slightest bit of preaching, Ramis shows the bumpy, unplanned evolution of his protagonist from a jerk to a fully realized human being—a person who has learned to experience deep and lasting justified satisfaction with life as a whole even though he has only one day to work with.

“Ramis’s own understanding of the story he is telling is sophisticated and subtle. That’s why you should watch the film more than once. You are sure to pick up subtexts the second time that you didn’t get the first time. And you’ll see even more when, after giving yourself a rest, you watch it a third time. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched Groundhog Day, but I’ve always seen something new.

“Why is it a good thing to understand this movie so well? Because it will help you live a good life. Absorbing the deep meaning of the Nicomachean Ethics will also help you live a good life, but Groundhog Day will do it with a lot less effort.”

Charles Murray and I also had this in common — a sense that part of the beauty of this film is that it’s not pretentious.

It was never sold as a smart or important film, but, instead, as a Bill Murray comedy. In this regard, Murray says that reminds him of Huckleberry Finn: “In the very beginning of the book, there’s a notice to the reader, something about ‘anyone attempting to find a moral in this book will be banished,'” Murray says. “Mark Twain is saying to his readers,’ hey, this is just for fun.’ And Groundhog Day was similar in this regard. It was presented as a really fun Bill Murray movie.”

So here’s to you Harold Ramis, for making a great, if small, movie that we’re still admiring today — and for doing it quietly. Let’s all take Murray’s advice, and watch this great film. Repeatedly.