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Purgatory

Some years ago, New York's Museum of Modern Art screened a series of religious films that included Groundhog Day, a Hollywood comedy starring Bill Murray.  This might seem an odd choice at first, since God and religion do not figure anywhere in the film.   Murray plays a cynical TV weatherman who spends most of the movie using every slimey trick he can think of to bed his lovely producer, played by Andie MacDowell.   Murray's eventual redemption is set in motion when he is cast into a kind of TV news purgatory, assigned to cover the Groundhog Day festivities in Punxsutawney, Pa.  Purgatory aptly describes it, since he is doomed to repeat the same day over and over until he gets things right.  

Each new Groundhog Day begins when the clock-radio in Murray's room awakens him with a fresh rendition of Sonny & Cher's "I Got You Babe."  Each day unfolds exactly as before.  Murray is the only one who realizes he is trapped in a perpetual rerun, and he alone has the power to alter events.  Murray's first instinct is to turn this situation to his advantage.  He wheedles intimate details of Andie MacDowell's life from her on one day and then uses them to worm his way into her affections the next.  Once he discovers she is attracted to sensitive men, he goes to the library to bone up on French poetry.  In his case, however, pretending to be the sensitive type proves to be too much of a stretch.  His efforts to steer her into the sack are always frustrated when he inadvertently reveals himself to be the jerk that he is.

Once it sinks in that his scheming will always be doomed to failure, Murray turns on himself.  He finds all sorts of inventive ways to commit suicide but discovers he can no more do lasting harm to himself than to others.  No sooner do the lights go out than he wakes up yet again to Sonny & Cher.  Having exhausted every other possibility, Murray eventually discovers within himself the shred of decency he never knew he had.  He realizes that he truly cares for the girl he lusted after.  His love for her carries the day and finally allows him to turn the page on his calendar.

Unlike Bill Murray's character, the rest of us do not have the luxury of reliving our life until we get it right (at least not in a single lifetime).  Sometimes it takes an expensive course of therapy to recognize that we are caught in our own little purgatory in which the same sad scenario plays itself out again and again.  The particular circumstances may vary, but the pattern does not.  There is a lesson here to be learned -- and until we do, it repeats.    

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