‘Love also has to be learned’
…asks the conflicted character of Phil, played by Bill Murray in Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993). Despite being a romantic comedy (I generally don’t care much for the genre), it is an intelligent, inspiring and funny feelgood-movie: it takes on the heaviest of questions with a delightful lightness of being.
We witness the protagonist, a modern day equivalent of the absurd hero Sisyphus of the ancient greek myths, who is trapped in a 24-hour time loop, making him relive the same dreaded day over and over again. “Viewed on the most trivial level it’s just another Hollywood rom-com, but on closer inspection it furnishes a dazzling treatment of Nietzsche’s concept of eternal recurrence, even illuminating Deleuze and Irigaray’s conflicting interpretations of this key Nietzschean idea. It also throws light on postmodern thinking regarding simulacra – representations without originals.” (2)
Friedrich Nietzsche elaborates on the concept of eternal recurrence in paragraph 341 of The Joyful Wisdom (also translated as The Gay Science):
The Heaviest Burden – What if a demon crept after thee into thy loneliest loneliness some day or night, and said to thee: “This life, as thou livest it at present, and hast lived it, thou must live it once more, and also innumerable times; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and every sigh, and all the unspeakably small and great in thy life must come to thee again, and all in the same series and sequence – and similarly this spider and this moonlight among the trees, and similarly this moment, and I myself. The eternal sand-glass of existence will ever be turned once more, and thou with it, thou speck of dust!” – Wouldst thou not throw thyself down and guash thy teeth, and curse the demon that so spake? Or hast thou once experienced a tremendous moment in which thou wouldst answer him: “Thou art a God, and never did I hear anything so divine!” If that thought acquired power over thee as thou art, it would transform thee, and perhaps crush thee; the question with regard to all and everything: “Dost thou want this once more, and also for innumerable times?” would lie as the heaviest burden upon thy activity! Or, how wouldst thou have to become favourably inclined to thyself and to life, so as to long for nothing more ardently than for this last eternal sanctioning and sealing? (3)
Eternity may seem like hell to the sufferer. But Phil gradually transforms from being a bitter mid-life-existential-crisis-victim via a seemingly endless process of variations on a theme until finally emerging the best possible version of himself and living the day he truly wishes to relive, thereupon breaking the eternal absurd cycle of ‘reincarnation’.
This film is worth replaying whenever you get that depressing feeling that everyone around you keep repeating the same old clichés and that consequentially, you reciprocate those clichés with the same old reaction.
(1) “Love also has to be learned” – quote from: Friedrich Nietzsche. The Joyful Wisdom. 1911. New York: Macmillan. § 334 [Accessed 2016-03-23 from URL: https://archive.org/details/completenietasch10nietuoft].
(2) Michael Faust. 2012. Groundhog Day. Philosophy Now. [Accessed 2016-03-23 from URL: https://philosophynow.org/issues/93/Groundhog_Day].
(3) quote from: Friedrich Nietzsche. The Joyful Wisdom. 1911. New York: Macmillan. § 341 [Accessed 2016-03-23 from URL: https://archive.org/details/completenietasch10nietuoft].