The Shadow and the Groundhog

Italian psychiatrist Massimo Lanzaro explores the concept of the shadow -- that part of us we fail to see or know -- in this review of Harold Ramis' film Groundhog Day


From a Jungian perspective, the persona is what we would like to be and how we wish to be seen by the world. It's our psychological clothing, and it mediates between our true selves and the environment, just as our physical clothing presents an image to those we meet. The ego is what we are and know about consciously. The self (itself an archetype) is alternately described as the "sum total of conscious and unconscious contents," a "coniunctio oppositorium," and as the "psychic totality of the individual."

However, Jung's life and work were also preoccupied with the "dark side" of the psyche and of humanity. It is not that he felt that we should celebrate darkness in a satanic way or become devil worshippers. But he knew we should enter into darkness and find out what is inside it. Freud and Nietzsche also felt Western civilization had been celebrating and emphasizing the "light" for too long. Many religions have encouraged us to turn away from darkness. According to Jung, this has had a negative effect on the psyche and the body, and disturbed the related flow of energy. When civilization decides that the "dark is bad", and to be suppressed, the natural gradient of life might be altered.

The term "dark side" has reached popular awareness trough the Star Wars series, and the films borrowed the term from Jung, through the influence of Jungian scholar Joseph Campbell on director George Lucas. Jung often referred to the dark side as "shadow", and he believed that not only individuals, but also whole nations, communities and groups had shadows that had to be encountered. He felt that the shadow has typically been demonized and "made evil," rather than viewed in a philosophical and more fair or equitable light.

The shadow is a "dangerous peculiarity and a valuable and congenial asset as well" and contains not only the undesirable elements of life, but also the "dark springs of instinct and intuition," which mere reasonableness could never call awake.

The Shadow is that part of us we fail to see or know, all that we would not want to be, and it is the sum of all those unpleasant parts of our personality that we prefer to keep well hidden, our baser, more primitive side. It is the inferior, dark, undifferentiated side, in conflict with the conscious Ego. The Shadow represents something inadequate and includes those qualities that clash with the established norms of social behaviour. 

Some Jungians have written about the gold in the shadow, believing that what consciousness rejects is often the stuff of life that may give it its highest value. The unconscious introduces new dimensions and might have a very different moral view compared to the one conditioned by society.

The aim of this paper is to focus on the development of the archetype of the individual shadow throughout the psychological analysis of the main character of Groundhog Day, a film with Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell, directed by Harold Ramis and released in 1993.

Phil (Bill Murray) is a weatherman for an American TV station, sent to Punxsatawney to cover the local Groundhog Day ceremony and all its accompanying festivities. The cynical weatherman accepts this trivial assignment with extremely bad grace and makes his way over to the town.  Once he has made his report he returns to his hotel and goes to bed looking forward to getting away the following day.  However, a surprise awaits him -- a second Groundhog Day, and then another! 

Living one day over and over again -- a dull, boring day with the same routine and that mindless little report on some country yokel ritual -- turns out to be the most special day of his whole life, a day when he can do all the things that every one of us has dreamed of: robbing a bank, blowing every last cent in Las Vegas or seducing the most beautiful woman in town. However, from a "deeper" point of view, it also slowly becomes a whole-making and thus holy important experience in his process of individuation and integration of the shadow features of his psyche.

The legend of Groundhog Day is based on an old Scottish couplet: "If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there'll be two winters in the year." Every February 2, people gather at Gobbler's Knob, a wooded knoll just outside of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Residents contend that the groundhog has always been right. The ceremony in Punxsutawney was held in secret until 1966, and only Phil's prediction was revealed to the public. Since then, Phil's fearless forecast has been a national media event. The groundhog comes out of his electrically heated burrow, looks for his shadow and utters his prediction to a Groundhog Club representative in "groundhogese." The representative then translates the prediction for the general public. According to the tradition, at dawn on this day the groundhog comes out of his winter hibernation and, when he emerges from his lair, if he sees his shadow he goes back in because that means the winter is not over yet.

Bearing this in mind, in my opinion the key shot of the movie is when we see the name of the groundhog (Phil!), carved in wood, appearing right above Phil Connors' head.  It is hard to believe this is a mere coincidence, and not to think that it might have sprung from the depths of the director's own concept of the Shadow. 

For Phil, living the very same day over and over again will bring about Phil Connor's honouring and accepting ("seeing", as the Groundhog) his own shadow through a profound discipline. Moreover, this process will bring him love with the woman who has been with him all the time, and the "winter" of his heart and his soul is over.

Feb 1
Phil delivers 5 o'clock weather report and heads for Punxsutawney with Larry and Rita.

Feb 2
Day 1
Groundhog Day! Tries to get back to Pittsburgh, but gets snowed out.

Day 2
Gets up and sees no snow on the ground. Weirds out more and more, but holds it together. Makes no real changes from Day 1. Before going to bed, he breaks a pencil to check on the next morning.

Day 3
The pencil is whole! Is totally freaked now and skips doing the groundhog report. Instead, he asks Rita to meet him at the Tip-Top Cafe to ask for her help. Goes to a neurologist and psychiatrist and ends up bowling with the morons. Realizes that he can do whatever he wants without consequence, goes on a rampage ("I'm not going to live by their rules any more!"), plays chicken with a train, and gets tossed in jail.

Day 4
Wakes up at the Bed & Breakfast and realizes he got away with going nuts the previous night. Starts to take advantage of his situation. Slugs Ned Ryerson, pigs out at Tip-Top Cafe, and gets info from Nancy Taylor to hit on her the next day.

If the shadow is projected unconsciously onto another person, it generates enormous hostility (Phil is often labelled as a primadonna, his "persona"), the most unreasonable aversion and hatred. It may also provoke blind prejudice and racial persecution, since the shadowy presence that inhabits our unconscious is irrationally attributed to something "other" than us.  Sometimes it is also possible to suffer this kind of projection, through bullying, or unjust and vitriolic personal attacks, for instance.  Part of the job of the analyst is to identify such projections and uncover the repressed content associated with them. 

Day 5
Picks up Nancy, but keeps calling her Rita.

Day 6
Has scheme to get all the money he needs (steals it from armored truck). Goes to movie with girl in French maid outfit.

Day 7
Tries to find out about Rita at Tip-Top Cafe. Buys Rita a drink at the bar that evening.

Inflating the Shadow implies extreme individualism, contempt for the needs of others, and a boastful claim to absolute uniqueness (when Phil responds to Rita's description of her ideal man by shouting "Me!" no less than four times).

Day 8
Buys Rita a drink. Gets the drink right but the toast wrong.

Day 9
Buys Rita a drink. Gets the drink right and the toast right. They have dinner together and he laughs at her when she tells him she majored in 19th century French poetry.

Day 10
Same as previous day, but this time he recites a French poem when she tells about her major. They make a snowman and dance in park. She comes up to his room and she slaps his face.

Day 11
Same as previous day, but before going to his room they build a snowman (while he goes giddy over the notion of fatherhood). She slaps his face at the end of night and this happens again in days 12 to 17.

Day 18
When she slaps his face again, depression sets in.

Day 19, 20, 21
Major depression. Things get worse and worse.

Day 22 & 23
Wakes and smashes clock/radio alarm.

Day 24
Smashes clock/radio alarm, kidnaps the woodchuck, and drives off a cliff.

Day 25
Electrocutes himself with a toaster in the bathtub.

Day 26
Steps in front of a truck.

Day 27
Jumps off a building. Rita and Larry identify the body.

Day 28
In the cafe with Rita. Says he is a god. Proves he knows everything about everyone and that he knows what's going to happen before it happens. She spends rest of day with him as an "objective witness."

Day 29
The beginning of the end! Comes out of depression (accepting the negativity). Gives a wad of bills to beggar. Brings coffee and danishes for Larry and Rita at groundhog taping. Starts piano lessons.

Day 30
Greets the dweeb he runs into every morning outside his room with happy Italian words of hope and promise. Decides to have more piano lessons and takes up ice sculpting.

Whilst exploring the Shadow, the goal is recognition rather than integration: accepting the negative and welcoming it as a pole of energy is less a true process of integration than a sort of coming to terms with the Shadow (just as the energy previously dispersed in the Shadow becomes exploitable by the Self), since eliminating it entirely appears an almost impossible enterprise.  After all, for human beings to be complete they must, of necessity, have some deficiencies. 

Day 31
More piano lessons.

Day 32
Instead of slugging Ned Ryerson, he embraces him and convinces him that he's gay. Takes the old beggar to the hospital to die.

Day 33
Takes the beggar out for breakfast and gives him mouth-to-mouth in attempt to save his life in the evening. Beggar dies. Apparently, he learns here to accept that there are some things he just can't change.

Recognising the Shadow usually happens once the projections are recognised (this is what happens to Phil at this stage), whether we are the victims, for example of our own parents' unconscious projections, or we are projecting onto others.  Jung defined this kind of introspection as "authentic confession" (for example, Phil's sincere words of love).

Day 34
The day "he got it right". Bill Murray makes a great speech at the groundhog taping, catches a boy falling out of tree, fixes a flat tire for three elderly ladies, administers the Hiemlich to Buster, the Groundhog Day official, in a restaurant. He plays piano at the groundhog party. Rita buys him at the bachelor auction/fundraiser. Everyone comes up and thanks him for what he did for them during the day.

It is probably our duty, whether as human beings or as therapists, to accept our own imperfections, sometimes admitting to them, sometimes confessing them both to ourselves and to others. This allows the energy imprisoned in the Shadow archetype to emerge and, in Phil's case, allows him to find a new strength, as he learns to play the piano and helps the dying homeless man. 

He also realises that omniscience is morally deficient as it allows no room for improvement. A standpoint outside of time and omniscience are not relevant to moral ends.  It is not enough to be godlike and sometimes the company of gods is tedious.  Humans are privileged in being able to improve themselves, and this is what makes them so interesting.  It would seem that what is most intrinsically valuable is the journey that leads to Awareness, and that Awareness itself. 

Groundhog Day shows us a situation that does not appear in the repertoire of Classical tragedy.  It tells the epic story of a god who becomes human and who discovers, after "seeing his shadow," that it is "better" to be human.

Bibliography/Suggested Readings
E.G. Humbert. C.G. Jung, The fundamentals of Theory and Practice. Chiron Publications, 1988 (Originally published in 1984 as C.G. Jung. Ed Universitaires, Paris).
Cinema and Psyche - A Journal of Archetype and Culture - Spring 73
(the first issue of "Spring" devoted exclusively to film and depth psychology)