Rhetorical Analysis- Morality Assignment | Essay Help Services


“Compassion and the Individual” by The Dalai Lama. “Toward a Universal Ethic” iby Gazzaniga Groundhog Day by Danny Rubin and Harold Ramisa movie. The movie and the essay seem to “argue” that humans should act ethically toward their fellow humans—that people should treat others with respect, consideration, compassion, etc. But which text is MOST PERSUASIVE? Which does a better job of persuading its readers or viewers to act ethically toward others. Take it as a GIVEN that the two essays and the movie are all arguments in favor of humans treating other humans well— with respect, compassion, etc. Then create a two-part paper.#1— Briefly present the major points of each text, noting (objectively) the primary methods (rhetorical strategies) each work employs to convince viewers to treat others well. (keep this section under 500 words) Then choose the one text you believe would do a better job persuading and convincing readers or viewers that humans should act ethically toward others. (Using 600-800 words for this section). Don’t compare and contrast the two texts: just go into detail building a case in favor of the single “text” you think is most persuasive.Section #2 should be thesis-driven, follow MLA guidelines, avoid the use of the 1st and 2nd person voices.Remember:This is not a “report” or a “summary.” Your final version should be part objective (section #1) and part subjective/argumentative (section #2), providing your reasoned opinion about the quality of your chosen author’s “rhetoric.”Movies seldom make detailed, explanatory or declarative arguments. If they persuade, they probably do so in a more indirect and subtle way than do essays. We can call a movie a “text” and we can “read” movies, but the “language” of film communicates with images as well as with words.

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Groundhog Day (1993)

Movie review by ROGER EBERT / January 30, 2005

Groundhog Day” is a film that finds its note and purpose so precisely that its genius may not be immediately noticeable. It unfolds so inevitably, is so entertaining, so apparently effortless, that you have to stand back and slap yourself before you see how good it really is.

Certainly I underrated it in my original review; I enjoyed it so easily that I was seduced into cheerful moderation. But there are a few films, and this is one of them, that burrow into our memories and become reference points. When you find yourself needing the phrase This is like “Groundhog Day to explain how you feel, a movie has accomplished something.

The movie, as everyone knows, is about a man who finds himself living the same day over and over and over again. He is the only person in his world who knows this is happening, and after going through periods of dismay and bitterness, revolt and despair, suicidal self-destruction and cynical recklessness, he begins to do something that is alien to his nature. He begins to learn.

This man is named Phil, and he is a weatherman. In a sense, he feels himself condemned to repeating the same day, anyway; the weather changes, but his on-camera shtick remains the same, and he is distant and ironic about his job. Every year on Feb. 2 he is dispatched to Punxsutawney, Pa., to cover the festivities of Groundhog Day, on which Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog, is awakened from his slumbers and studied to discover if he will see his shadow. If he does, we will have another six weeks of winter. We usually have another six weeks of winter, anyway, a fact along with many others that does not escape Phil as he signals his cynicism about this transcendentally silly event.

Phil is played by Bill Murray, and Murray is indispensable; before he makes the film wonderful, he does a more difficult thing, which is to make it bearable. I can imagine a long list of actors, whose names I will charitably suppress, who could appear in this material and render it simpering, or inane. The screenplay by Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis is inspired, but inspired crucially because they saw Bill Murray in it. They understood how he would be able to transform it into something sublime, while another actor might reduce it to a cloying parable. Ramis and Murray had worked together from the dawn of their careers, at Second City in Chicago, and knew each other in the ways only improvisational actors can know each other, finding their limits and strengths in nightly risks before a volatile and boozy audience. I doubt if Ramis would have had the slightest interest in directing this material with anyone else but Murray. It wasn’t the story that appealed to him, but the thought of Murray in it.

The Murray persona has become familiar without becoming tiring: The world is too much with him, he is a little smarter than everyone else, he has a detached melancholy, he is deeply suspicious of joy, he sees sincerity as a weapon that can be used against him, and yet he conceals emotional needs. He is Hamlet in a sitcom world. “Lost in Translation,” another film that works because Bill Murray is in it, captures these qualities. So does “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,” which doesn’t work because Murray’s character has nothing to push against in a world that is as detached as he is.

In “Groundhog Day” (1993), notice how easily he reveals that Phil (the weatherman, not the groundhog) is a perfect bastard. He doesn’t raise his voice or signal through energetic acting that he’s an insufferable jerk. He just is. He draws for his Punxsutawney assignment a patient angel of a producer named Rita (Andie MacDowell) and a good sport of a cameraman named Larry (Chris Elliott). Like television production people everywhere, they’re accustomed to “talent” that treats them shabbily; they indulge the egos of the on-camera performers and get on with their jobs, reflecting perhaps that they can do without the big bucks if it means being a creep like Phil.

At 6 a.m. on Feb. 2, Phil is awakened by the clock alarm in his cozy little Punxsutawney bed-and-breakfast. It is playing “I Got You Babe,” by Sonny and Cher. He goes through a series of experiences: Being greeted by an old classmate who wants to sell him insurance, stepping into an icy puddle, performing a stand-up on camera in front of the wretched groundhog, which he considers, not without reason, to be rat-like. Phil is rude to Rita and Larry, and insulting to his viewers (by implying they are idiots to be watching the segment). He has no liking for himself, his job, his colleagues or the human race.

All he wants to do is get out of town. He begins to. He doesn’t quite make it. What with one thing and another, he wakes up the next morning in the same bed, with the radio playing the same song, and it gradually becomes clear to him that he is reliving precisely the same day. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, in his case, doesn’t creep in at its petty pace from day to day, but gets stuck like a broken record. After the third or fourth day, the enormity of his predicament is forced upon him. He is free to change what he says and does from one Feb. 2 to the next, but it will always be Feb. 2 for everyone else in the world, and he will always start from the same place. They will repeat themselves unless he changes the script, but tomorrow they will have forgotten their new lines and be back to the first draft of Feb. 2.

One night in a bowling alley, sitting at the bar, he says almost to himself: “What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and everything that you did was the same, and nothing mattered?” The sad sack next to him at the bar overhears him and answers: “That about sums it up for me.”

Slowly, inexpertly, Phil begins to learn from his trial runs through Feb. 2. Ramis and Rubin in an early draft had him living through 10,000 cycles, and Ramis calculates that in the current version he goes through about 40. During that time, Phil learns to really see himself for the first time, and to see Rita, and to learn that he loves her, and to strive to deserve her love. He astonishingly wants to become a good man.

His journey has become a parable for our materialistic age; it embodies a view of human growth that, at its heart, reflects the same spiritual view of existence Murray explored in his very personal project “The Razor’s Edge.” He is bound to the wheel of time, and destined to revolve until he earns his promotion to the next level. A long article in the British newspaper the Independent says “Groundhog Day” is “hailed by religious leaders as the most spiritual film of all time.” Perhaps not all religious leaders have seen anything by Bergman, Bresson, Ozu and Dreyer, but never mind: They have a point, even about a film where the deepest theological observation is, “Maybe God has just been around a long time and knows everything.”

What amazes me about the movie is that Murray and Ramis get away with it. They never lose their nerve. Phil undergoes his transformation but never loses his edge. He becomes a better Phil, not a different Phil. The movie doesn’t get all soppy at the end. There is the dark period when he tries to kill himself, the reckless period when he crashes his car because he knows it doesn’t matter, the times of despair.

We see that life is like that. Tomorrow will come, and whether or not it is always Feb. 2, all we can do about it is be the best person we know how to be. The good news is that we can learn to be better people. There is a moment when Phil tells Rita, “When you stand in the snow, you look like an angel.” The point is not that he has come to love Rita. It is that he has learned to see the angel.


source:  http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050130/REVIEWS08/501300301



Groundhog Day:

Breakthrough to the True Self

Article by Ken Sanes

Website: Transparencies:  http://www.transparencynow.com/groundhog.htm


An example of an exceptional work of moral fiction is the apparently minor comedy, Groundhog Day,  which shows us a character who has to be exiled from normal life so he can discover that he is in exile from himself. In the movie, actor Bill Murray plays Phil, an arrogant, Scroogelike weather forecaster who spends the night in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where he is to do a broadcast the next day about the annual ritual of the coming out of the groundhog. He wakes up the next morning, does his story and is annoyed to discover that he is trapped in Punxsutawney for a second night because of a snowstorm that comes in after the groundhog ceremony.


When he wakes up in his guest house room the next morning, lo and behold, it is the morning of the day before all over again. Everything that happened to him the previous day — the man trying to start a conversation at the top of the stairs; the old high school acquaintance recognizing him on the street, the ritual of groundhog day — it all happens again.


And, once again, due to inclement weather, he is forced to spend the night. When he wakes up the next morning, it is the same day as yesterday and the day before, with the same oncoming snowstorm keeping him stuck in town and the same events repeating themselves like a broken record.


And so it goes, day after day, as this misanthrope of a human being finds himself trapped in Punxsutawney on groundhog day in what science fiction would refer to as a time loop. If he does nothing different, events will repeat themselves as they were on the original day. But if he changes his behavior, people will respond to his new actions, opening up all kinds of possibilities for playing with the unfolding of events. Either way, with each “new” day, he alone remembers what happened in previous editions of the same day.


At first Murray’s character responds with bewilderment. Then he despairs and begins to treat life as a game: he risks his life and gorges on food, expressing both his sense of hopelessness and his growing recognition that, no matter what he does, time will reset itself and he will wake up as if nothing had happened.


In one scene, which turns out to be central to the movie’s theme, he expresses his despair to two working class drinking buddies in a local bar.


One of his two inebriated companions then points to a beer glass and sums up the way he is responding to his situation: “You know, some guys would look at this glass and they would say, you know, ‘that glass is half empty’. Other guys’d say ‘that glass is half full’. I bet you is (or I peg you as) a ‘the glass is half empty’ kind of guy. Am I right?”


But as the days pass endlessly into the same day, this half-empty character finally finds a purpose in life: learning everything he can about his female producer, Rita, played by Andie MacDowell, so he can pretend to be her ideal man and seduce her. When that fails, and his efforts net him slap after slap, day after day, his despair deepens and he begins to spend his days killing himself. He kidnaps the groundhog and drives over a ledge into a quarry; he takes a plugged-in toaster into the bath; and he jumps off a building, always waking up whole in the morning.


In desperation, he reveals his plight to the female producer and she stays with him (without sex), in his room, through the night. Once again, he wakes up alone in the same day.


But, enriched by this experience of intimacy, and by the fact that someone actually liked him for who he is, he finally figures out a constructive response — he begins to live his life in the day allotted to him, or, rather, he begins to live the life he never lived before. Instead of allowing circumstances to impose themselves on him, he takes control of circumstances, aided by the fact that he has all the time in the world and the safety of knowing what will happen next.


He begins to take piano lessons from a music teacher who is continuously surprised at how proficient he is, since she always believes it is his first lesson. He learns how to be an ice sculptor, which is the perfect art form for him since everything he does will have melted away when he wakes up anyway. And he becomes more generous.


Then, an encounter with death — an old vagrant dies in his day — has a deep effect on him. At first, he can’t accept the man’s death and, in at least one subsequent edition of the day, he tries to be good to the old man, taking him out to eat (for a last meal) and trying, unsuccessfully, to keep him alive.


When he stops trying to force death to relent, his final defenses fall away and his compassion for the old man transfers to the living. He begins to use his knowledge of how the day will unfold to help people. Knowing that a child will always fall from a tree at a certain time, he makes it a point to be there and catch the child every time. Knowing that a man will choke on his meal, he is always at a nearby table in the restaurant to save him.


Slowly, he goes through a transformation. Having suffered himself, he is able to empathize with other people’s suffering. Having been isolated from society, he becomes a local hero in Punxsutawney.


Now, he sees the glass as half full, and the day as a form of freedom. As he expresses it in a corny TV speech about the weather that he gives for the camera, at the umpteenth ceremony he has covered of the coming out of the groundhog:


“When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. But standing here among the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the of warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn’t imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter.”


In other words, having accepted the conditions of life and learned the pleasures afforded by human companionship, he is no longer like all those people who fear life’s travails, and try to use the weather forecast, by human or groundhog, to control events. He accepts “winter” as an opportunity.


Finally, the female producer falls in love with the good person he has become and she again spends the night (although he falls asleep so, again, there is no sex.) They wake up in the morning. She is still there and it is the next day.


In a last bit of irony, the couple, (who get to know each other, in the Biblical sense, once the new day begins), decide to settle down in Punxsutawney. Like Maxwell Klinger in the last episode of MASH, Murray’s character will end up living in the one place he couldn’t wait to escape.


What is so powerful about Groundhog Day is the way it lets us experience what it would be like to make a breakthrough like this in our own lives. The movie shows us a character who is like the worst in ourselves. He is arrogant and sarcastic, absorbed in his own discomforts, without hope, and cut off from other people. Like us, he finds himself in an inexplicable situation, seemingly a plaything of fate. But, unlike us, he gets the luxury of being stuck in the same day until he gets it right. Whereas most of us go semi-automatically through most of our (very similar) days, he is forced to stop and treat each day like a world onto itself, and decide how to use it. In the end, he undergoes a breakthrough to a more authentic self in which intimacy, creativity and compassion come naturally – a self that was trapped inside him and that could only be freed by trapping him. Like many of the heroes of fiction, he can only escape his exile from himself by being exiled in a situation not of his choosing.


In telling this story, the movie hits on a message that is commonly found elsewhere and that appears to express an essential truth. When we get beyond denial and resentment over the conditions of life and death, and accept our situation, it tells us, then life ceases to be a problem and we can become authentic and compassionate. Murray’s character makes two such breakthroughs: first he accepts being condemned to being stuck in the same day, then he accepts the fact that everyone else is condemned to die.


Inevitably, the movie also has mythic resonances and literary counterparts. Murray’s character is like all kinds of saviors and heroes in well-known stories, secular and religious, who experience some combination of suffering and courage, until they go through a transformation to a new state of knowledge. Among the religious and mythic elements we can recognize in the story: he fights off his demons; he is changed by an encounter with death; he experiences a kind of rebirth; he appears to people to exist in time but he also exists outside of normal time; he manifests deep compassion; he is in the world but not of it, suffering with a special knowledge that he uses to save those around him; and he is given a second chance in life by the love of a beautiful woman. He condenses images of Buddha and the Beast, Scrooge and Jesus.


But the movie keeps myth and archetype, as well as message, blessedly in the background. It also employs only a little visual spectacle and only the barest minimum of fantasy, in the form of the ever-repeating day, to tell the story. It is effective because it is understated, allowing Murray and the theme to engage us.


Perhaps it gets  a little too sweet as it moves toward a conclusion, but that is forgivable. At the end, it saves itself from going over the top by revealing that Murray’s character still has some of the old, calculating, self inside him. As he and his new mate walk out of the guest house into the new, snow-covered day, he exclaims, with his new enthusiastic wonder at life: “Its so beautiful — Lets live here.”


Then, after the obligatory kiss, he adds: “We’ll rent to start.”


Happily-ever-after is very nice, the character slyly tells us. But in the real world it’s important to keep your options open, just in case you need to beat a quick retreat.


Groundhog Day: The Movie, Buddhism and Me

 New York Times “Groundhog Day, The Movie,” Feature Story excerpts:

December 7, 2003


New York Times   “Groundhog Almighty”



A NEW movie series from the Museum of Modern Art, “The Hidden God: Film and Faith,” features some pretty brooding stuff. There’s a 1955 Danish movie about a man who thinks he is Jesus Christ, an Ingmar Bergman pastiche about a tormented pastor, a Roberto Rossellini movie about monks. These are, of course, the “intellectual with a capital I” films that audiences might expect at a religious-theme retrospective organized by a major museum. Subtitles and all that fancy stuff.


With one exception. On Thursday, the opening-night feature at the Gramercy Theater, where the series is being presented, was “Groundhog Day,” the 1993 movie starring Bill Murray as a sarcastic television weatherman forced by a twist of fate and magic to relive one day of his life, Feb. 2, over and over.


Since its debut a decade ago, the film has become a curious favorite of religious leaders of many faiths, who all see in “Groundhog Day” a reflection of their own spiritual messages. Curators of the series, polling some 35 critics in the literary, religious and film worlds to suggest films with religious interpretations, found that “Groundhog Day” came up so many times that there was actually a squabble over who would write about it in the retrospective’s catalog.


Harold Ramis, the director of the film and one of its writers, said last week that since it came out he has heard from Jesuit priests, rabbis and Buddhists, and that the letters keep coming. “At first I would get mail saying, ‘Oh, you must be a Christian, because the movie so beautifully expresses Christian belief,’ ” Mr. Ramis said during a conversation on his mobile phone as he was walking the streets of Los Angeles. “Then rabbis started calling from all over, saying they were preaching the film as their next sermon. And the Buddhists! Well, I knew they loved it, because my mother-in-law has lived in a Buddhist meditation center for 30 years and my wife lived there for 5 years.”

Angela Zito, a co-director of the Center for Religion and Media at New York University, screens the film for students in her Buddhism class. She said that “Groundhog Day” perfectly illustrates the Buddhist notion of samsara, the continuing cycle of rebirth that Buddhists regard as suffering that humans must try to escape (a belief, Dr. Zito noted, that was missed by executives at Guerlain, who, searching for an exotic name, introduced a perfume called Samsara in the 1980’s, overlooking the negative connotations).

“Groundhog Day,” Dr. Zito said, is a cinematic version of the teachings in Mahayana Buddhism, known as “the greater vehicle.”


“In Mahayana,” she said, “nobody ever imagines they are going to escape samsara until everybody else does. That is why you have bodhisattvas, who reach the brink of nirvana, and stop and come back and save the rest of us. Bill Murray is the bodhisattva. He is not going to abandon the world. On the contrary, he is released back into the world to save it.”


Some theologians see much less Buddhism in the story than Judaism. Dr. Niles Goldstein, rabbi of the New Shul congregation in Greenwich Village and author of “Lost Souls: Finding Hope in the Heart of Darkness” (Bell Tower, 2002), said he finds Jewish resonance in the fact that Mr. Murray’s character is rewarded by being returned to earth to perform more mitzvahs — good deeds — rather than gaining a place in heaven, which is the Christian reward, or achieving nirvana, the Buddhist reward. He has not used the movie as an allegory for his congregation, he said, but he might now.


But wait. Michael Bronski, a film critic for The Forward who teaches a course in Jewish film history at Dartmouth, said he sees strong elements of not only Jewish but also Christian theology. “The groundhog is clearly the resurrected Christ, the ever hopeful renewal of life at springtime, at a time of pagan-Christian holidays,” he said, adding: “And when I say that the groundhog is Jesus, I say that with great respect.”


The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and an associate editor of America, the National Catholic Weekly, didn’t quite see the groundhog as Christ-like. Referring to the Murray character, he said, “You do, however, very clearly see the deadness of his life at the beginning of the movie.” After the self dies, he added, “what is reborn is this new person resurrected from his comatose way of looking at the world.”



The Greatest Story Ever Told?



A 1993 romantic comedy starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell is being hailed by religious leaders as the most spiritual film of all time. Today, as the US town of Punxsutawney celebrates Groundhog Day, Andrew Buncombe reports on an unlikely parable


Monday, 2 February 2004


Fred knew a thing or two about redemption, about the willingness to change, about turning one’s life around. Sitting drinking beer from a bottle in a dark, late-night bar in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, as a blizzard blew up outside, he explained, “A few years ago, my son was about 12 or 13 and it had got to the point where he needed me around more than I was. I was working for a gas company, making $55,000 [£30,000], which is good money for these parts. But I just walked away from it. Now I sell trailers and low-loaders, anything, and I doubt I make a third of what I used to. But I’m always there for my boy. Now my son’s a star athlete at high school and a grade-A student.”


Fred put down his bottle, tugged on the peak of his baseball cap and glanced at the snow coming down outside. “I’ve done some pretty stupid things in my time, but I can walk down the streets of Punxsutawney with my head held high.”


Today, the people of Punxsutawney will be holding their heads as high as any. For the 117th consecutive year the people of this small town will hold aloft a small, rat-like creature and, by its subsequent behavior, seek to forecast the weather. Records suggest that the forecasters usually get the prediction correct, but either way the town’s Groundhog Day has become world famous and tens of thousands of people will flock to this part of Pennsylvania to participate in it.


Much of that has to do with the success of the 1993 film Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray as a brash TV weatherman who is dispatched to Punxsutawney to cover the annual festival. Yet the movie has achieved far more than simply luring crowds to a Pennsylvanian town–what is usually described as a romantic comedy has become a crucial teaching tool for various religions and spiritual groups, who see it as a fable of redemption and reincarnation that matches anything that Fred could tell me at the bar.


“At first I would get mail saying, ‘Oh, you must be a Christian because the movie so beautifully expresses Christian belief’,” the film’s director Harold Ramis recently told The New York Times. “Then rabbis started calling from all over, saying they were preaching the film as their next sermon. And the Buddhists! Well, I knew they loved it because my mother-in-law has lived in a Buddhist meditation centre for 30 years and my wife lived there for five years.”


Firstly, a brief synopsis of the film: Murray’s arrogant and curmudgeonly character, Phil Connors, having been sent to Punxsutawney for the fourth year in a row, finds himself inexplicably trapped in a seemingly endless cycle in which he is forced to repeat that 2 February day over and over again. Nothing he can do–not suicide, not prayer, not visits to the psychiatrist–can break the circle. At first he uses the repetitious cycle to his advantage, learning to play the piano and to speak French in an effort to seduce his producer, played by Andie MacDowell.


It is all in vain. Every day at 6am he wakes up in the same bed with the same crushed pillow in the same small hotel, the same tinny radio on the bedside table playing Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” and the same obnoxiously cheerful local-radio presenter reminding everyone–just in case they had forgotten–that it is Groundhog Day. It is only when, an endless number of days later, Murray learns humility, understanding and acceptance of his fate that he breaks the cycle.


Unknown to Fred, and probably to most of the people in snow-bound Punxsutawney, Groundhog Day is now associated in the minds of many spiritual seekers with redemption, rebirth and the process of moving to a higher plane. Professor Angela Zito, the co-director of the Centre for Religion and Media at New York University, told me that Groundhog Day illustrated the Buddhist notion of samsara, the continuing cycle of rebirth that individuals try to escape. In the older form of Buddhist belief, she said, no one can escape to nirvana unless they work hard and lead a very good life.


But in the teachings of the slightly more recently established Mahayana Buddhism, no one can escape samsara until everyone else does. “That’s why you have what are called bodhisattvas who reach the brink of nirvana and come back for others,” she said. “The Dalai Lama is considered one living bodhisattva, but Bill Murray could also be one. You can see [in the film] that he learns.” Zito shows the film to her undergraduates in New York without any explanation beforehand. “Most of them know the film,” she said. “I think they find it interesting.”


But Ramis is quick to point out that it is not just Buddhists who are able to draw parallels with the film. Scholars of Judaism have also leapt on it, and Ramis claims that many Buddhists in the US started out as Jews. “There is a remarkable correspondence of philosophies and even style between the two,” said Ramis, who was raised in the Jewish tradition but practices no religion. “I am wearing meditation beads on my wrist, but that’s because I’m on a Buddhist diet. They’re supposed to remind me not to eat, but they actually just get in the way when I’m cutting my steak.”


Dr Niles Goldstein, the author of Lost Souls: Finding Hope in the Heart of Darkness, is rabbi of the New Shul congregation in Greenwich Village. He recently said that there was a resonance in Murray’s character being rewarded by being returned to earth to perform more good deeds, or mitzvahs. This was in contrast to gaining a place in heaven (the Christian reward) or else achieving nirvana (the Buddhist reward). He is considering using the film as an allegory when he speaks to his congregation. “The movie tells us, as Judaism does, that the work doesn’t end until the world has been perfected,” he said.


As Ramis has been told by Jesuit priests among others, the film clearly also contains themes found within the Christian tradition. Michael Bronski, a film critic with the magazine Forward and a visiting professor at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, where he teaches a course in film history, said: “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.”

The Groundhog Day that is celebrated in Punxsutawney, as well at countless other, less famous festivals in towns across the US, has its roots in the tradition of the settlers who moved into Pennsylvania. Many historians say that the tradition has fused with that of Candlemas Day, always held 2 February, or what is known in the Gaelic tradition as là fhè ìll Brighde nan coinnlean, or “the feast day of Brìghde (or Bridget) of the candles”. The date comes halfway between the winter solstice, which marks the shortest day of the year, and the vernal equinox on or around 21 March, the first day of spring.


Many of the first settlers to the hills and forests of Pennsylvania were German and used the native groundhog, a member of the marmot family, in a custom that their ancestors had performed using a hedgehog. If the sun appeared on 2 February, and the hedgehog was able to see its shadow, the animal would return to its nest where it had been hibernating and the participants would judge that another six weeks of winter were to come. If there was no sun, and therefore no shadow, spring was on its way early. In the words of one traditional Scottish couplet: “If Candlemas Day is bright and clear/ There’ll be twa [two] winters in the year.”


Not surprisingly, some non-mainstream beliefs have also focused on this ceremony, and indeed the movie. Tizzy Hyatt of the Women’s Theological Institute, a Wicca group based in Madison, Wisconsin, said that their name for Groundhog or St Bridget’s Day was symbolic. “It’s the return of the light,” she said. “On this day, the days start to get longer. Hopefully the spring will return.”


These days the groundhog of Punxsutawney–for more than 100 years known as Phil–is very much a modern beast. The groundhogs, or woodchucks, are raised by hand by a local undertaker, Bill Deeley, who is a member of the inner circle of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, the top-hatted men who perform the forecasting. Mr Deeley’s 80-year-old father, Chuck, a veteran of the Second World War, told me that his son raised the animals in a room at the rear of the funeral parlor. “The customers don’t know,” he whispered.


The groundhogs spend most of their time in a heated, glass-sided burrow set inside the town’s neat library, where thousands of visitors, most of whom have seen the film, come and peer at the animals and sign the visitors book. But yesterday–as on every 1 February–Deeley and others from the club will have come and selected one of the groundhogs and taken it to a specially constructed, and likewise heated, burrow in the base of a tree stump on a piece of ground overlooking the town, known as Gobbler’s Knob. At 7.30am, they rap on the burrow’s trap door with a 70-year-old cane, take out Phil and in front of the roaring crowd lift him into the air. Phil will “speak” to the club’s president and predict the weather.


Not everyone in Punxsutawney buys into the Groundhog Day cult. Rev Mary Lewis of the town’s First Baptist Church felt the idea that the film illustrated resurrection was taking matters too far. “However, to me, in terms of Christian values I see that [Murray] is growing as a person. He starts out as a creep only out for himself, but gradually he begins to actually become a better human being.”


The morning after the night in the bar, I drove up to Gobbler’s Knob to inspect Phil’s temporary home. Bill Cooper, the president of the Groundhog Club, and Butch Philliber, another member, were shoveling away the overnight snow and throwing down salt in anticipation of today’s crowds.


Cooper, an affable banker from Pittsburgh who moved to Punxsutawney some years ago, knew all about the religious groups who had jumped on the movie, and he appeared to approve of the spiritual element attached to the event. “With the forecasting, it depends who you listen to,” he said. “Some people say we get it right a lot, others say we usually get it wrong. But if you’re the sort of person who is going to come and argue about that, then Groundhog Day is not for you.”


Suddenly he looked terribly stern. “People might say that when we listen to Phil it’s all just for show, but l

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