In this new classic, Bill Murray plays grumpy weatherman Phil Connors, who is sent with his producer Rita (played by Andie McDowell) to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover whether the groundhog will see his shadow and we'll get six more weeks of winter. Phil hates everything about the assignment and town (because he hates everything, including himself), but when a snowstorm traps them in the town and they must stay the night, Phil wakes up to relive the exact same Groundhog Day again, and again, and again...
I'll try to keep the spoilers in this post vague, but there isn't much to spoil here, and that's part of the beauty. The story follows the typical structure of the hero's journey: Phil is faced with a dilemma, he tries to escape the dilemma (both physically and metaphysically), he finally realizes that he must change to conquer his situation, he changes and the society benefits from his change, and in the end he receives the hero's boon.
The idea of having to live the same day over and over again ad infinitum while being able to remember the previous day and adjust one's behavior is a beautiful metaphor for the personal transformation of the human being. I'm not talking about Phil here; I'm talking about you and me.
Throughout the course of the movie, Phil changes in so many ways, but the one most intriguing to me is his ability to connect and care for Rita to win her by the end. In reliving the same day again and again, he makes to her stupid comments and inane suggestions while demonstrating an immaturely pessimistic worldview that lies in stark contrast to Rita's cheery comportment. While the days that you and I experience in our lives are not identical, the lesson is the same: engaging in the same negative habits over and over will only give us the same results.
Often we don't see this. We are blind to what motivates into negative habits, addictions, and thought patterns. Hence the psychological idea, coined by Jung, of seeing one's shadow, or parts of our psychologies that our conscious minds are not able to see. Much like the shadow's on Plato's cave wall, we are so often unaware of the motivations and justifications that we can control but do not, and yet we are forced to reap the consequences of those psychological dispositions. The process of psychotherapy is the process of uncovering one's shadow to better understand the parts of ourselves that we deny. It is no coincidence that Phil Connors shares the name of Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog.
Phil learns from his mistakes in his courtship of Rita by altering his behavior each time he relives the day; we learn from our mistakes in the dating world by altering our behavior on each new date or potential partner we have. It is through this process that we, and Phil, learn to detach ourselves from the absolutes in our minds to truly and genuinely connect with another person. If I look at Rita as a symbol for all the women I've dated in my life, I can look back and see how I have changed my behavior--and who I am--based on what worked and didn't work, how I made people feel and how I felt about doing it.
Phil's other endeavors in the movie consist of the development of his physical abilities (the piano) and his ethics (from bank robbery and hedonism to altruism). That's what makes this movie so phenomenal: it is a perfect metaphorical representation of the process the human being undertakes to overcome his or her faults to step into their full potential. The first step is becoming aware of the things one should change (which is difficult, because the essence of the shadow is that it is a psychological blindspot), but even if one is aware of one's own shortcomings, it takes a tremendous amount of effort to overcome the inertia of one's faults to change into a new person. Phil cannot escape the day, so the premise of the film forces Phil to confront his demons; in real life, people avoid those confrontations all the time, and are usually consumed or destroyed by them. (Eerily embodied on this very day by the passing away of another Phil, Philip Seymour Hoffman, of a drug overdose.)
The path of transformation is available to anyone: it is an inherent part of the human organism. But the willpower required of that transformation is tremendous, which is why so many avoid the quest. Should they undertake it to its full end, however, it is how they overcome their suffering, realize their full human potential, and work to reduce the suffering of others. This is the path of the true hero. And in the same way that a person becomes aware of their faults and works to change them, so does a society atone for its mistakes and change to reduce the suffering for all. There is only one path of improvement.
Winter is symbolic of death and decay while spring is symbolic of rebirth and renewal. In truth, the process of death and renewal happens every morning, every evening, and truly in every moment, over and over, like the day Phil relives. The meaning of Groundhog Day the holiday isn't weather prediction; it's to remind us that the potential for change is always inherent, the transformation of character is always a possibility, and this possibility is always within our control. It never matters if the groundhog sees his or her shadow. Six weeks more winter or no, the trials of life must be endured. Either they conquer us, or, through courage and camaraderie and awareness and effort, through the humility of the trial and error of life, we conquer them, and become the people we have the potential to become.