Groundhog Day… and Shadow Boxing

I’ve long been drawn to the movies for the deeper messages they can communicate. Some of the overtly Christian ones can count here. But, more especially, I’m thinking of “secular” films in which deeper, spiritual messages have surprised me, catching me off guard (in a most refreshing way).  Films like The Matrix, The Way, The Godfather trilogy, City Slickers, Grand Canyon,and Tender Mercies come immediately to mind.  (reel theologyAnd then, there are t.v. shows like The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Stranger Things,…)  To adapt the words of Elizabeth Barrett Browning: “Hollywood is crammed with Heaven, every common film a potential burning bush.”

It’s the basis of the Zoe-Life Explorations which we call “Reel Theology: Focused Discussions at the Intersection of Hollywood and Divine.” (Have to admit that we’re pretty proud of that play on words!)groundhog day

Groundhog Day this last weekend has me thinking of that meaningful film starring Bill Murray. On the surface, it comes across as a lite comedy: a man stuck in the same day. Yadda, yadda, yadda… “Thats right, woodchuck-chuckers – it’s Groundhog Day!”

At a deeper level, though, we see Murray’s character, Phil Connor (any coincidence that he’s got the same name as the local groundhog?) struggling not just with the same old day but the deeper “shadow” that drives it.

“Shadow boxing”: these words came to mind one time when a group of us were discussing the film.  And that’s exactly what Phil does (and needs to do) on his way to the freedom of living out of his “true self”: engage the empty agendas of the many false selves that he’s collected (i.e., that we’ve all encountered and variously accommodated) across the years from his family of origin, culture, the playground growing up, and who knows where else.

In his musings on the true self and false self, Fr. Basil Pennington categorizes these agendas (elsewhere, Thomas Keating will refer to them as “[flawed] emotional programs of happiness”) along the lines of “what I have, what I do, and what others think of me.” (Pennington, True Self, False Self: Unmasking the Spirit Within, New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2000, p. 31)

These three, in fact, are the temptations which Christ engages and overcomes in the wilderness on the way to clarifying his mission and identity. (cf, Pennington, p. 33f.)

It’s very much the journey, the battle which all of us – like Phil Connors – must be about if we are to arrive at our full and truest selves.

Informed and inspired by Grace and Christ, we arrive at a new, fresh dawn which transcends the sameness and staleness and emptiness of “just another day.”


And here, I can not help but raise a question:
What films or t.v. shows (maybe unconventional)have struck you
for the deeper truths and spiritual messages they have stirred within you?
I’d love for you to leave a reply. (I am ever looking for another gem!)

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