It is not so often that the title of a film becomes a phraseological unit, and even in many languages. Groundhog Day was lucky in this regard, and not only in this. For more than 25 years, a film about a meteorologist stuck in a provincial town has been watched with pleasure in different countries: a seemingly simple story, in which there are no expensive visual special effects or dizzying plot turns, has become a cult. And although the very idea of a time loop, on which the plot of Ramis’s film is based, cannot be called new, in Groundhog Day it is revealed in such a way that the film was included in philosophy and econometrics textbooks, and at the same time in textbooks for screenwriters.
Where did the time loop motive come from and what is its meaning?
The most ancient prototype of the time loop should be considered the Buddhist and Hindu Wheel of Samsara. It is believed that the soul is doomed to revolve in a circle of rebirth until it reaches enlightenment. From the Eastern tradition, this idea passed into European and American cultures, and in the 20th century, art many times turned to the images of heroes for whom linear time disappeared and who are forced to experience the same events over and over again. Such heroes are present in the films Mirror for the Hero and Repeat, the Shadow Play episode of the Twilight Zone TV series, L. Arden’s novel The Devil’s Shiver, R. Luopoff’s 12:01 story. Ironically, the story was filmed in the same 1993, and the apparent similarity of the plots of “12:01” and “Groundhog Day” caused a scandal and a trial, which ended with an agreement of the parties.
The popularity of the time loop motif is primarily due to its versatility. The time loop can be interpreted as a symbol of an existential crisis, and as a metaphorical atonement for sins, and as a parodic embodiment of the meaninglessness of being in a consumer society, and even as an illustration to the theory of possible worlds. One of the virtues of Groundhog Day is that almost all interpretations are applicable to the film. What the viewer sees in Ramis’s film depends not so much on the film as on the viewer himself.
Although Groundhog Day is traditionally considered a comedy, it cannot be said that the audience laughs continuously while watching it. The further the action develops, the more dramatic it becomes, and the protagonist’s suicide attempt is completely tragic (it’s another matter that he did not die). The film is unusual in a subtle and well-balanced combination of frankly humorous and dramatic episodes, so it would be more accurate to call Groundhog Day a kind of hybrid of comedy and philosophical parable.
Why is Phil Connors stuck in Punxsutawney?
A small town like Punxsutawney is a place where usually nothing ever happens, except that the groundhog crawls out of the hole. It is difficult to change anything here without any fantasy: from year to year you go to the same cafe, communicate with the same people, and all days are similar to one another. For the ambitious Connors, Punxsutawney is a kind of hell on earth, and it is obvious that he would suffer in this city even if he simply could not leave it without a time loop.
However, the meteorologist not only stays in Punxsutawney, but endlessly lives the same day – February 2. Unlike other works, the creators of Groundhog Day refused to explain the reasons for the appearance of the time loop, although initially they had such inclinations. And the point is not only that these reasons, by and large, are not so important for the viewer willingly accepting the world of the film as it is. The refusal to explain the reasons is closely related to the main idea of the film.
What is the main idea of the film?
If the reason for Phil’s time loop was the witchcraft of his ex-girlfriend, as planned in one version of the script, then in order to break out of it, he would need to influence external circumstances, and this would be a completely different film. The main idea of Groundhog Day is that all time loops and existential dead ends are in ourselves, they are conditioned by our “Ego”, our attitude and ethical code. In other words, on the endless Groundhog Day, we are driven not by dark forces or an unjust society, but by ourselves. Accordingly, in order to get out of the impasse, one must change from within, get out of the shell of egocentrism and learn to love.
What is the point of Phil’s actions?
Connors’ behavior – for all the fantastic situation – is internally logical and psychologically reliable. After recovering from the first shock and making sure that psychiatrists will not help him, he begins to experiment, test the strength of the world in which he finds himself, and behaves like a child who has grabbed hold of an amusement park or like a player in a computer game. At this stage, Phil is still fixated on himself, he behaves selfishly and self-destructive. But experimentation and entertainment cannot be the meaning of life, and as a result, the meteorologist falls into despair. His suicide attempt is a metaphor for spiritual death, followed by renewal.
And it really comes. Gradually, Phil begins to change, not only mastering something new, but also turning to face people. The relationship between Phil and Rita plays a special role in the process of spiritual renewal, and not because it was she who pointed out to him the need for change. Groundhog Day ends for Phil with his true love. It’s not just the strength of this feeling: the viewer is made aware that any successful personal change is based on love, and more broadly – on the positive. You cannot become a different person by forcing yourself to change.
Why did Phil stay in Punxsutawney at the end of the film?
By refusing to return to Pittsburgh, the filmmakers underscore the depth of Connors’ change. If for the former ambitious egocentric a small city was a dreary, boring place, then the updated Connors is able to see and understand all its charm. He became a different person, and the city became different for him: after all, what we see depends on our attitudes and point of view.
What is the reason for the popularity of the film?
Groundhog Day owes much of its popularity to the personality of the protagonist. Phil Connors is a frankly mediocre man with no special talents; in some ways he is cute, in some ways repulsive. The best thing about Phil, whom we see at the beginning of the film, is characterized by the term “ambivalent”, i.e. dual, causing an indefinite relationship. At the same time, there is nothing unusual in Connors’ actions: in both good and evil, he does not go beyond certain limits (for example, he does not kill anyone). He is always understandable, although not always pleasant. It is easy for the average viewer to identify with Phil, mentally stand in his place: after all, few can boast that his every day is unique and not like the previous one.
The complex philosophical and moral issues in Ramis’s film are shown on the example of the fate of an ordinary person who has absorbed all the shortcomings of our society from cynicism to selfishness. Whether we like it or not, Groundhog Day is not so much about a Pittsburgh meteorologist but about all of us. Therefore, it is unlikely that it will ever become outdated.
How long was Phil Connors stuck in Groundhog Day?
Phil Connors spent 34 years in Groundhog Day. February 2 was Groundhog Day in the U.S. and there was yet another reason to remember the famous comedy starring Bill Murray. The resource Obsessed With Film conducted a detailed study and calculated the total number of days that the main character was forced to spend in a time loop.
It was based both on Phil Connors’ own statements, for example, about acquiring the ability to accurately hit cards into a hat, and on the assumptions of experts who estimated the time required to learn to play the piano virtuously or the training required to carve sculptures and portraits out of ice.
It turns out that Murray’s character spent a total of 33 years and 358 days in Groundhog Day. Notably, the director of the picture, Harold Remis, claimed in an interview on the Blu-ray edition of the film that Phil Connors spent 30 to 40 years in prison.
By the way, on February 2, 2022, Groundhog Phil predicted the early arrival of spring