By Eleni Papanou
March 3, 2014
“When I was twelve, I read the line, ‘An unexamined life is not worth living.’ I took it seriously to heart. And literally. Like it was a requirement in life, akin to the Buddha’s suggestion that we maintain ‘sufficiently inquiring minds.'” Harold Ramis interview in Shambhala Sun
When Harold Ramis passed away February 24, 2014, the world lost a visionary actor, director, and writer. “Was honored to have gotten to work with Harold Ramis, the Buddha of Comedy, Brilliant, humble, radiant. We’ve lost an icon,” actor Rainn Wilson tweeted.
As a child, I laughed when I watched him in Ghostbusters, never thinking that he was more than a funny guy playing a nerd. But now I view him as much more. Although he wasn’t a Buddhist, Ramis’s movie, Groundhog Day, of which he directed and co-wrote, became an “underground Buddhist classic” (Shambhala Sun, 2009). The plot is simple: Bill Murray’s character, Phil Connor, cycles through the same day until he sees the errors of his ways and evolves.
Harold Ramis intended for the movie to be non-denominational and was taken aback by the reaction given to the film. “It always seemed ironic to me that it [Groundhog Day] didn’t lead people to recognize the commonality of all their points of view, but rather, ‘This must be about us and only us.’” He said in response to observing various religious sects’ views toward the movie.
I think Ramis was being a little too critical. As Visionary fiction authors, we seek commonality by writing dogma-free stories to attract readers of all faiths. Ramis achieved that with Groundhog Day, and that makes him a visionary fiction writer, at least in my book.
“Even death is no escape from our demons. It usually takes hitting the bottom of the barrel for man to seek spiritual redemption. I’ve killed myself so many times, I don’t even exist anymore.” Phil Connor, Groundhog Day
The reason behind Groundhog Day’s success is that it doesn’t preach to us or force us to convert our world views. Ramis’s use of comedy to express a serious underlying theme makes us think and relate to the film’s redemptive message. That’s powerful and visionary writing!
The breaking down and rebuilding of a character is a common feature in visionary fiction. But the character must do this on his or her own. Phil Connor liberated himself from his narcissistic personality and evolved. In my novel, Unison, my protagonist re-lives the same lifetime. While not a comedy, the breaking down and building up pattern works the same way. On the path toward redemption my protagonist engages in many despicable acts that make Phil Connor look like an angel! While the stories are different, the message is the same. No matter what we do, if we have the will, we have the power to evolve.
Jodine Turner, author of the visionary series, Carry on the Flame, also relates to the breaking and rebuilding characteristic. The female protagonist in her books is the same soul reborn in different periods of history. Jodine’s settings are “Eras that are critical to shifts in human consciousness.” She further explains that “The main character (the same soul) is given the opportunity to sort through and transform their own pain, darkness, and struggles in order to embrace a bigger destiny. A destiny of helping humanity through turbulent times at the critical junctures where humanity has a choice to evolve…or fall back into darkness.”
Margaret Duarte, author of Between Now and Forever, connects her own writing to the breaking and rebuilding of Phil Connor. “My protagonist does the same (though without the comic twist) during the course of my novel series. She awakens to love on the Eastern path of the Medicine Wheel, lets go of and forgives her past in the South, gains inner strength in the West, and learns about love and service in the North.”
Interestingly, stories such as Groundhog Day, follow the hero’s journey. I also start off my novels with this structure as there’s a natural visionary quality to it. Many hero’s journey stories—like Star Wars and Willow—can also be filed under visionary fiction.
The process of breaking a character by setting her out to conquer the proverbial dragon is thrilling to write about. However, it’s what that character keeps hidden about herself and the struggles she endures during her evolutionary journey that makes writing fulfilling to me. It’s what differentiates visionary fiction from other genres.
Jodine Turner further explains saying, “Every good character makes their way through a transformational arc. And that means turning the painful crap into the good stuff, with new meaning and a deeper capacity to love hopefully being the end result. Finding the gem inside the pain. Certainly this is a redemptive theme, though more symbolically so.”
Each time I watched Groundhog Day, I had this sense that Harold Ramis was deconstructing and rebuilding himself through his writing—a common trait of a visionary writer. Dan Aykroyd confirmed my assumption when he said: “Deeply saddened to hear of the passing of my brilliant, gifted, funny friend, co-writer/performer and teacher Harold Ramis. May he now get the answers he was always seeking.”
As visionary writers, we know we’ll never get the answers for every question we ask. But through each story we write, a little more truth reveals itself to us, motivating us to continue to write, to imagine, to evolve.
Goodbye Harold Ramis, and thanks for the inspiration…and meaningful laughs you left behind.
Eleni Papanou is an award-winning author and perpetual student of life. Visit her website for news and updates