Groundhog Day

Tagged: Film

Film (1993). Columbia. Directed and coproduced by Harold Ramis (1944-2014). Written by Danny Rubin and Ramis, based on a story by Rubin. Cast includes Chris Elliott, Andie MacDowell, Bill Murray and Steven Tobolowsky. 101 minutes. Colour.

Phil Connors (Murray) is a cynical and unhappy television weatherman, dejected at having to cover for the fifth time the annual 2 February Groundhog Day ceremony in the small town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania (a real ceremony held in a real place). The groundhog predicts six more weeks of winter, and indeed – contrary to Connors's prediction – the television crew is snowed in that night. When Connors wakes next morning in his hotel room at 6am on 2 February, and does so again the next morning, and the next, he understands that something like a Time Loop is refusing him exit from Groundhog Day. No one but Connors knows what is happening: for everyone else, each 2 February they experience is their first. As Connors learns more and more about his oblivious fellows, he begins to act like an Antihero with Superpowers: for as his knowledge of the day increases, he is increasingly able to manipulate this repeating world. He has become its Secret Master, and his growing awareness that nothing he does will stave off his return to the same morning generates a comic escalation of outrageousness, along with a temporarily successful suicide or two. Thirty-four separate days or fragments of days are actually shown on film, sometimes passing in seconds; but it is made clear that this is only a fraction of the total number Connors must experience – at one point he hints at a total amounting to at least ten years – before his last day in Punxsutawney, which occupies the last quarter of the film.

During this escalation, he is constantly thwarted in his attempts to seduce his idealistic producer Rita Hanson (MacDowell), initially by learning all about what she likes and dislikes as the day repeats, and attempting to manipulate her accordingly: but this is no way to escape. Clearly he has been placed in this trap for some other purpose than to trick a lovable woman into bed with him. For the film to make any sense, his immurement must be just (see Crime and Punishment): that he is being punished for being who he is: a jerk with a bad mouth. He must improve or else. Groundhog Day is a Godgame story, but the only magus forcing Connors to invigilate his soul in order to become a better person is Connors himself (see Postmodernism and SF). The Labyrinth that must be traversed in most Godgame stories becomes, in this version, a path through a maze of Time Loops to the heart of things.

No sf explanation is offered at any point, nor anything but the vaguest suggestion that Punxsutawney on Groundhog Day might be an appropriate sacred ground for some ritual drama of Return and Redemption, even with its mythic elements hilariously denatured. It may be enough to follow the creation of a Hero, as day by day by day Connors reshapes his soul, wins Hanson's heart and, in an act of entirely secular redemption, engages in prolonged and joyous Sex with her as the hour of midnight passes: and comes the next day. He awakens, with his love. Groundhog Day is yesterday. They stroll down the snow-covered street while on the soundtrack can be heard "Almost Like Being in Love" from Brigadoon (1947) by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, a fantasy play about a village that appears only once every hundred years. They live happily ever after. The narrative complexities of the film are smoothly and deftly juggled, without a hitch. Murray's rendering of Connors is similarly dextrous, running a gamut from smart-ass smarm to despair to self-ironizing redemption. Groundhog Day might have won a Hugo, had this not been the year of Jurassic Park (1993). [JC/PN]

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