Monday, September 07, 2009

Groundhog Day by Harold Ramis

I had heard good things about this film, that this film was existentialist and that it was an ironic tale about human mortality.

To be sure, it is not a bad film. The premise is brilliant, the film is quite entertaining, and it does have many genuinely funny moments. There have been quite a few mainstream films with world-weary cynical protagonists who undergo a change in perspective. About Schmidt, American Beauty and As Good as it Gets spring to mind.

However, in many such films, and especially in this film, the metamorphosis is linked to becoming lovable again. It is as if the measure of a man, and of his life, is to to be able to win the love of a beautiful woman whom he fancies. It is as if love is the answer to the big puzzle, it is as if the woman has it already figured out and the man has to finally reach her level to be happy.

I am not at all objecting to the wise person being a female. This is not a debate about gender. What I am objecting to is the infantile notion that we are good and innocent when we are born and we get corrupted and bad as we grow up. That someone who has refused to grow up and acts emotionally, dreams, thinks wistfully, has romantic notions, likes specific things to eat and to drink, is somehow an evolved and happy person.

Observe the central woman character in As Good as it Gets and in Groundhog Day and you will nary find a thing wrong with her character. She is afflicted with the human condition, but she is portrayed as the ideal to which the fallen man must aspire. And the man is fallen because he doesn't believe in human relationships. And to lend credence to his villainy, he is needlessly, in fact cantankerously, rude, bitter and lonely.

It is as if there are only two ways to live: bitterly, or lovingly. It is as if there can be no kind and generous association without also having love and compassion in one's bosom. It is as if one needs to just reawaken one's "essential" humanity to be able to happy again. Never mind that the "essential" humanity is animal at its core.

In short, such films are retrogressive in the garb of being prescriptive. What is prescribed in most of such films is a regression to an infantile state where good feelings set the standard of what is sensible.

It is instructive to note in these films that the ideal to which a man finally aspires is to be a good husband and a good father.


There is nothing wrong in being a family man (or woman), but as the vast majority of mankind is already married and involved in parenthood, such films trivialize the essential problem of humankind.

The problems of life are brought in sharp focus when the usual solutions are seen to be insufficient. If the usual solutions were good enough, there wouldn't be the mayhem that we see all around us, and within us.

9 comments:

Sandy G said...

Harman, the fact that most of the people are married and good husbands and fathers and yet there is mayhem, so it is not important to be a good husband or father doesn't hold. /to exaggerate- all are also living- and that is essential , though the mots banal of things to achieve whatever transcendence one seeks outside this banality.
Perhaps the worst folly is assuming that a banal life is also trivial and senseless.
?!?

Harmanjit Singh said...

Hi Sandy,

Banality is not senseless, but it is dangerous to consider a "well-adjusted" human being as the goal. Yes, it is a step forward to be able to proceed from cynicism to, say, affection. But the films stop there. I am objecting to the affection being the ideal.

These films are about the an abnormally bitter man becoming somewhat normal, and that being the goal we must all aspire towards. The journey from abnormality to normality is fine, it is the consideration of normality as The End that is problematic.

Jarnail said...

"...it is the consideration of normality as The End that is problematic."

Can you state what is The End without goving a link to Encyclopaedia Brittanica?

Harmanjit Singh said...

Hi Jarnail,

One can object to something as problematic without having a solution in hand.

Nevertheless, as of now I consider freedom from one's animal passions (something that is definitely not normal or natural) as a valid and worthy goal.

Jarnail said...

"...it is the consideration of normality as The End that is problematic."

That's Hinayanism...

Jarnail said...

Nevertheless, as of now I consider freedom from one's animal passions (something that is definitely not normal or natural) as a valid and worthy goal.

That's Hinayana...

Last comment a mis-paste. Pl delete along with this line.

Sandy G said...

In traditional psychological theory (and therapy), the goal is to make a man able to productively 'work and love' - the 2 overarching goals that are also banal to an extent. The positive psychology movement goes further and want him to become fully realized- to me again- working or loving to the best of his capacity. . The transcendence of animal passions may be a means but never a goal. why do you think of that transcendence of animal passions as a goal in itself. ?How does it hello, but in making a man love and work in the best possible way:-)

Harmanjit Singh said...

In traditional psychological theory (and therapy), the goal is to make a man able to productively 'work and love' - the 2 overarching goals that are also banal to an extent.

I understand. And I consider psychiatry to be useful in bringing a sub-normal person to normalcy. But my point is that the mayhem and anguish of the human condition is normative, and not because of the abnormal or sub-normal people. To portray normalcy as prescriptive of happiness ("and they lived happily ever after") is what I object to.

Mahendra said...

I did not think that the ideal portrayed here was to be a good husband or father. I preferred focusing on the larger perspective of being warm towards other human beings, being a good listener, and so on.

Read my take from the post here: http://skeptic.skepticgeek.com/2009/05/13/a-to-z-of-films-meme-g/