Harold Ramis: A Comedic Visionary Crosses Over

By Eleni Papanou

March 3, 2014

Ghostbusters-3-project-to-continue-without-Harold-Ramis

“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!

Mind Deconstruction 

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.”

Hero’s Journey

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

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10 Responses to Harold Ramis: A Comedic Visionary Crosses Over

  1. esdragon2 says:

    That quote; an unexamined life etc. resonated loudly for me when I first read it. My husband, a Jungian type therapist, has it pinned to his wall. They were applauding Ramis on BBC Review Front Row program last night and particularly mention Groundhog Day. I took note of it as me next 'to view' video.

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  2. Admin - Eleni says:

    It's a great movie, Esme. It's one of the few that I can watch over and over again. Bill Murray is charming as Phil Connor. I think that it had to be a comedy as some of the film's most serious moments could have been disturbing.

    I am also influenced by him regarding my own studies in both life and psychology.

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  3. Harold Ramis did more than seek answers, he lived the questions (through his art), and allowed us to come up with our own answers. I so agree with your statement: "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!" You summed it all well, Eleni, with: "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."

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  4. Pingback: Harold Ramis: A Comedic Visionary Crosses Over | Visionary Fiction Alliance

  5. I never thought of Groundhog Day as visionary or spiritual. It was a funny movie. Reading your essay reminds me that visionary thinking is often hidden in many films we would otherwise pass off as straight-up comedy, or meant for kids, etc. Consider the Disney/Pixar films of recent years. There are few people who would consider animated films about prehistoric families (The Croods) as viionary–but the underlying theme is about not living in fear…and, dare I say it, evolving! Then we have a film like Frozen, where the character development revolves around the ability/inability to feel and be all that we know we posses within the heart but which others have feared and forced us to, pardon the pun, put into deep freeze.

    Disney/Pixar may be entertaining children of all ages with its films, but at the same time it's sending uplifting visionary themes/messages into the subconscious of viewers, most especially the grown-ups who bring children to watch these films.

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  6. Admin - Eleni says:

    Karen:

    That's what makes it so brilliant. People are being entertained while getting an uplifting message on a subconscious level. The caveat is that if a movie has the power to uplift, it also has the power to inject negative imagery into the subconscious. I can go on about this stuff, but the simple truth is that the power of storytelling can inspire humanity or conspire against it.

    I will have to look up the movies you mentioned and put them in our database.

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  7. esdragon2 says:

    'An unexamined life is not worth living,' implies Awareness. Collective, or mass consciousness, unfortunately is the state which most of the human race live in all their lives. 'Don't worry,' the Devil said, when one of his minions reported the miraculous birth of baby Yeshuah, (Jesus,) 'they'll soon turn it all into a Religion.'

    Whether Yeshuah himself had a sense of humour I really can't say, but to my mind humour is an essential ingredient in spiritual awareness. According to Jose Saramago, another visionary, I think, Yeshuah had several interesting conversations with the Devil, and the Devil proved himself to have a far better sense of humour! (But that was only fiction, wasn't it.)

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  8. Admin - Eleni says:

    Awareness collective…you happened to bring up something I was reading about yesterday with Jung and his explanation of the “modern man” who is able to pull away from the collective matrix and live in the present. We can, of course, add “modern woman” to the mix. What Jung says does demonstrate the power of the media. We are the media, and the media is a reflection of all the archetypes ingrained in us collectively.

    Regarding humor, I find the further I travel on the spiritual path, the more I laugh. It feels way better than crying!

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  9. vicsmith0123 says:

    Thanks for a very thoughtful piece, Eleni, and for the line: "Interestingly, stories such as Groundhog Day, follow the hero’s journey" with the hyperlink–so often the path of dangerous diversion–to the summary of Joseph Campbell's work. I meant to scan the article, as it was from a book I read awhile ago, but spent an hour there and came away with a clarified picture not only of Visionary Fiction but of the Life journey.

    As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I once participated in a men's group using Robert Bly's Iron John as a text. A bunch of old guys using a fairy tale to achieve enlightenment–it was just silly enough to work, if only because each of us, all wannabe heroes, had to first accept that we would actually go on such a ridiculous-sounding quest. Turned out fairy tales are not just for children and other fairies.

    I vaguely remember seeing Groundhog Day, but I must have had my supercilious glasses on that day, so I missed both the humor and thus the message. Rewind and rerun.

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    • Admin - Eleni says:

      No, fairytales aren't only for children. The archetypes are in us and can easily be drawn out, no matter our age. I would have a blast engaging in the exercise you mentioned. I recall my parents having a theme party where everyone came over dressed in togas. They were all laughing like children, and for one night they became children. I thought it was silly back then, but I now view it as something that could've been therapeutic. I wonder if any of them gained new insights about themselves. This is something I should ask my mother.

      You wearing supercilious glasses, Vic? Nah!

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