Two films I watched in the last week, Groundhog Day and This Is 40, reminded that, as with so many things in life, the traditional Hollywood narrative can be severely misleading when it comes to self improvement.

Don't let Hollywood reboot your brain. Image by Viktor Hertzen

Don’t let Hollywood reboot your brain.
Image by Viktor Hertzen

The latest offering from captain of comedy Judd Apatow promised to be meat and drink to someone on the edge of a life transition. This Is 40 charts the crisis of a prosperous American couple on the verge of turning 40, and their attempts to ‘deal with it’ by making positive life changes. A healthier lifestyle for all the family is ushered in (much to the chagrin of their kids) whilst the couple both agree to dump their chief vices – secret cupcake-eating for him and smoking for her. As usual in Hollywood, redemption does not come from this overt diet of self-inflicted change – in fact it’s the comedy canon fodder on which the audience feasts: in the film, the male lead goes out on bike rides with his 40-something mates whilst his wife routinely lies about her age: they’re both kidding themselves whilst running away from genuine self-improvement, and we’re all in on the joke.

No wonder we never want to change our lives when prominent storytellers routinely lambast and deride the notion of self-improvement.

Following This Is 40 I sat down to enjoy one of my favourite movies, Groundhog Day, in which a wise-ass, cynical and self-obsessed small time news reporter is sentenced by mysterious forces to live and re-live a single purgatorial day. Bill Murray’s lead character Phil has no intention of self-improvement at the start of the movie, and only achieves redemption when he becomes tired of his own role in the interminably-repeated day he is living. Phil begins to realise there is sadness, sickness and iniquity everywhere he looks, so he attempts to improve his groundhog day by helping those around him, unwittingly achieving redemption, happiness and love in the process.

In both This Is 40 and Groundhog Day, a resolution is achieved in spite of our lead characters. Change ‘happens’ to them whilst they’re busy living their lives. Consuming stories like this gives us a warm fuzzy feeling because we’re able to bask in the warm glow of redemption just before the protagonists realise it themselves. It might be great storytelling, but if you sit around waiting for your own story to resolve happily, you’ll be waiting a long time. Sure – there are exceptions to this rule, but for every famous story of self-motivated development such as Eat, Pray, Love, I bet I could show you ten more as I’ve outlined above that cast change as a random, fateful or other force which is convenient for the scriptwriters.

My Year In Flux is my attempt to ignore the advice of these movies, to forget about fanciful ideas of fate or deservedness, to dismiss all those excuses and barriers to not taking control. We have to sack the scriptwriters, get out there and overcome our own groundhog days in our own ways. As Bill Murray’s character exclaims at the end of Groundhog Day, “Do you know what today is?…Today is tomorrow, it happened”.