Wednesday, February 02, 2005

"And when I say the groundhog is Jesus, I say that with great respect."

Do you suppose that video rental places experience a one-day run on the Bill Murray movie "Groundhog Day" each February 2nd? I haven't seen the movie in years, but after reading what Jonah Goldberg has to say about it, I think I need to watch it again.

When the Museum of Modern Art in New York debuted a film series on "The Hidden God: Film and Faith" two years ago, it opened with Groundhog Day. The rest of the films were drawn from the ranks of turgid and bleak intellectual cinema, including standards from Ingmar Bergman and Roberto Rossellini. According to the New York Times, curators of the series were stunned to discover that so many of the 35 leading literary and religious scholars who had been polled to pick the series entries had chosen Groundhog Day that a spat had broken out among the scholars over who would get to write about the film for the catalogue. In a wonderful essay for the Christian magazine Touchstone, theology professor Michael P. Foley wrote that Groundhog Day is "a stunning allegory of moral, intellectual, and even religious excellence in the face of postmodern decay, a sort of Christian-Aristotelian Pilgrim's Progress for those lost in the contemporary cosmos." Charles Murray, author of Human Accomplishment, has cited Groundhog Day more than once as one of the few cultural achievements of recent times that will be remembered centuries from now. He was quoted in The New Yorker declaring, "It is a brilliant moral fable offering an Aristotelian view of the world."

Oh. Er, . . . geez, I love it when films are all multivalent and stuff, but . . . Groundhog Day?

I know what you're thinking: We're talking about the movie in which Bill Murray tells a big rat sitting on his lap, "Don't drive angry," right? Yep, that's the one. You might like to know that the rodent in question is actually Jesus — at least that's what film historian Michael Bronski told the Times. "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."

You know, I've had this idea of starting up a film discussion group at my church. Sort of like one of those ubiquitous book clubs, but with movies instead of novels. Film, after all, is simply a modern way of storytelling, and I suspect that people go to more movies each year than they read books. So why not a movie-watching-and-discussion group? The format allows everyone to experience them simultaneously, and because they're short, the viewing and discussion can all take place in the same evening.

So I'm going to try to run a film discussion group, with the idea of discussing movies as both works of art and a presentation of the filmmaker's worldview.

After reading the above, I may have to include "Groundhog Day." If nothing else, I certainly want to see it again now.

But I'd also like some advice. What other films would make for good discussions -- both of the filmmaker's technique, and of the themes? I'm trying to avoid films that everyone will have already seen, or if immensely popular, will have seen recently. I'm also hoping to discuss the thematic elements with regard to the Christian worldview. I'd be interested in hearing your suggestions in the comments below.


At 7:02 AM, Blogger Generous van den Bosch said...

Excellent question. I'll be right back with a few suggestions.

At 9:29 AM, Blogger Anselm said...

Hmmm. Depends on the "tolerance" level of the group. "The Big Chill" can be seen as a story of losing one's first love, facing death, and deciding what's important in life; It initiated much introspection for me. Full of sin, though, so might be a problem for some. Course so's the Bible.

At 8:46 PM, Blogger Sanna said...

This might be too well-known, but I like "Contact" with Jodi Foster. It has many spiritual and psycological themes to explore.

At 8:57 PM, Blogger Drew said...

Well, I've never seen "Contact," and it's been too long since I've seen "The Big Chill." I may have to review both of them. Thanks.

At 3:51 PM, Anonymous Renee said...

Stars Wars and LoTR for the obvious analogies.

Shadowlands because C.S. Lewis was brilliant.

I second Contact.

Though not nearly as good as the play, of course, Les Miserables is good for the tale of redeption as well.

Regarding anselm's comment, the sin isn't the problem. It's representing sin without the showing real consequences that is a troublesome fact of many movies and books.


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