Entry #13: Groundhog Day (1993)

Of all the time-loop type of films, Groundhog Day may be the best. It not only provides a good time travel premise, but also is very funny and has a large amount of heart.

Phil Conners, aka Punxsutawney Phil, relives the same day over and over again as a sort of karmic punishment for the way he lives his life. His realization that he’s living in the same day follows many a path. At first he realizes that there are no consequences to anything he does during the day. He will always awake the next morning to the strains of Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe” playing on the clock radio.

He soon tires of the new found freedom that his predicament has left him in, and decides to pursue wooing Rita, played by Andie MacDowell. Most of his attempts are a con, as he uses the results of his previous attempts to work out “the perfect” date with her. But in the end, she realizes that he’s just using her, and that anything she feels for Phil is ‘a cheat.’

This causes Phil to fall into a deep depression, which causes him to continue inventing interesting forms of suicide in an attempt to pull himself out of the temporal loop in which he’s stuck (He tells Rita on one occasion that he has “come to the end of me.”). He rapidly swings the other way into trying to help every person in town from having any problems on February 2. He saves, a boy from falling out of a tree (without so much as a “thank you”), he helps some ladies with a flat (“the fastest jack in town”), and buys insurance from Needlenose Ned (“BING!”). But, what he can’t do is save the homeless man from dying. Scenes, such as the one with the nurse in the hospital, when she tells Phil that it was just the old man’s time to die, underscore the poignancy of this film. Sometimes, even doing the right thing will not change the outcome.

He finally falls into an enlightened state by which he has changed from doing anything on that day for himself, into a man serving the people of the town. By this point, where he is not trying to chase Rita, she is able to see that he is truly different that she originally thought. Phil’s selflessness is what finally breaks him out of the loop.

Phil is brusque, and a jerk. He is concerned with the surface of all things, and has no meaningful or deep relations. His self centeredness blocks him from seeing the beauty and goodness around him. When God, or time, or whatever it is that has stuck him into this loop, cursed Phil, it was done to teach him the lessons of kindness, self sacrifice, and service. Much like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, was shown his past and his future in order to change the man the he was; Phil Conners is given a chance to discover his flaws and fix them. But not in some miraculous overnight epiphany. By different accounts, Phil was trapped between 8 years to over 34 years in his loop. Not that it matters, but the length of the journey provides the character solid redemption and change. In the end, Phil is changed, and it was no quick or easy fix.

Perhaps, in the same way that the groundhog of the film saw his shadow and predicted 6 more weeks of winter, Phil too saw his shadow and was cursed to repeat the events of the day until he could thaw his icy heart. This is not so hard a concept to imagine, as the filmmakers insert many philosophic elements into the film, providing much for viewers to get out of this film on repeat viewings. Phil shows that free will in practice can move mountains. And while he may be fated to exist within the same day, he is free to choose his own path. In other words, within the constraints of the things we cannot change, there are hundreds of choices that make that can change the outcome of our days.

I think that Bill Murray pulls off a great feat in this film, transforming from his acerbic jerky weatherman character, into a kind and compassionate person in just the course of 100 minutes. I have often said that seeing this film once, is like seeing it a dozen times, and that is mostly true. We see a lot of scenes over and over again, with only slight changes. But with that being said, I could keep watching this film many times, and often have, because the message of hope, compassion and redemption is so strong.

In closing I hope your Groundhog Day is less eventful and that you can take the lessons that Phil learned over many a day, and apply them to your life immediately. Also remember: Don’t drive angry!

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