“It’s always February 2nd and there’s nothing I can do about it” – Gurdjieff, Ouspensky’s ‘hobby’ & the origins of the film ‘Groundhog Day’

I almost missed it – until I saw @nevverdaily‘s obligatory Bill Murray post in my newsfeed:

“…it’s always February 2nd and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

“…it’s always February 2nd and there’s nothing I can do about it.” Courtesy of This Isn’t Happiness

That’s right, woodchuck chuckers!

I am equally astounded that it’s Groundhog Day … again.

Groundhog Day is one of the most mainstream of all the ‘cult favourites’ there is – so much so that watching it has become a become an annual movie tradition, at least in large chunks of the northern hemisphere. It’s definitely one of my favourite films in that sense.

Yes it was written and directed by Harold Ramis and yes it starred Bill Murray – but that is not the limit of its appeal beneath its snappy comedic surface. And, to be sure, that it’s the first Feb 2 since the death of Ramis, who passed away Feb 24, 2014, adds to the poignancy. Yet there is something about the story of a man endlessly repeating the same day that has additional appeal, both personally and intellectually, to a student of spirituality and of Gurdjieffian ideas and practices in particular.

It’s that meta-sense we all have of ‘It’s Groundhog Day … again’ that captures why this film has so ingratiated itself into contemporary minds and hearts. Do we not all of us see or at least suspect that there is a little of Phil Connors’ in all the circling and grinding repetition of our lives? And I don’t mean just the ‘outer’ 9-to-5 stuff, but the ‘inner’ automation which dominates most of us, most of the time …?

Our inner automation is all the stronger because it is usually invisible, especially our own – to give you a sense of its sheer power: have you ever sat down and really thought about how long the film really is?

Well I have had cause to listen to the DVD commentary and bonus material, where either Ramis or Danny Rubin tell is that the intention was that Murray actually spends thousands of years in it. Why have I had cause? Because for my own cycling sins I wrote a paper in 2012 on the origins of the film in the little known and posthumous only novel of one of great 20th century thinkers who had the (mis)fortune of being among one of the great pupils of Gurdjieff: Ouspensky‘s Strange Life of Ivan Osokin.

I could tell you now about Oupensky’s connection to Nietzschean currents and pre-Einsteinian non-Euclidiean mathematics as well as his pre- and para-Gurdjieff genius, how the novel was a product of the internecine sectarian death struggles between the ‘Ouspenskyians’ and Gurdjieff’s final flock, about how Bill Murray himself was (is?) a Gurdjieffian … but why spoil your fun when you can read all about it yourself, either above via Scribd or my Academia.edu page?

Just think of this as one of the good deeds that culminate in the denouement of my own Groundhog Day …

And here’s another, to balance the dark decades of purgatory that we all experienced in our above journey with Phil, one that to me illustrates the ‘divine’ core of the both the novel and the film, and that reveals to the audience that repetition is a gnostic sword that can cut both ways:

So I’ll leave you to take away this image: “I’m a god, not the God … Maybe the real God uses tricks; maybe He’s not omnipotent, He’s just been around so long he knows everything.”

Yet there is something we can do about it – because like those now proverbial quantum participles, it is our precise observation of it, our awareness, that stops the indeterminacy and changes the course. Indeed, arguably it is the only thing that ever has.

We can play tricks on the trick, play with the trick, pay tribute to its trickery:

Let’s go make some weather! Let me know about your connection to the film or your thoughts about my paper on the film’s origin in Ouspensky’s novel below in the comments below.


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