Skip to main content

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #259: Groundhog Day

There are plenty of movies focused on a particular holiday, with Christmas notably hogging the spotlight, but who knew Groundhog Day would end up with an inspirational movie about life, love, and spirituality? Starring Bill Murray as an egotistical weatherman stuck in a time loop, Groundhog Day (1993) is a film that, just like its main character, you want to live again and again…and again. Screenwriter Danny Rubin and director Harold Ramis successfully create a fantastic situation in which a man must embrace the day because for him there is literally no tomorrow.

This is a movie better discovered over time, and I gradually discovered it when it would play on TV back when I was living in South America in the mind-90s. As a family it was very fun to watch Bill Murray go crazy and kidnap a groundhog, but much to my surprise I later learned my mom didn’t like the movie. She didn’t like the fact Murray kept repeating the same day, even though that is the whole point. You have to hang in there until he finally breaks free and actually lives that day. I ended up buying the Special Edition DVD in one of those three-for-one packs at HMV along with Stripes and Ghostbusters, and every Groundhog Day I have my special holiday movie I can watch. It is a perfect film to watch in February, because it really recharges your batteries and reminds you to live life to the fullest.

The movie focuses on weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) who has high hopes of moving up in the news business but first he must perform the annual assignment of covering Groundhog Day. Along with free spirited producer Rita (Andie MacDowell) and cameraman Larry (Chris Elliot) he heads off to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, one of those small American towns that looks beautiful on a post card. While there he must report on the town’s annual festivities celebrating Phil the Groundhog as he looks at his shadow and, legend says, predicts whether or not there will be six more weeks of winter. Rita finds the tradition adorable, but Phil finds the whole affair ridiculous and looks forward to never coming back.

After sarcastically completing his assignment, Phil gets back on the road only to have to turn back because of an unexpected blizzard. That his job is to announce the weather and he didn’t see the snow coming is infuriating, but not as infuriating as the surprise he gets the next morning. The radio plays the exact same song as the day before, Sonny and Cher’s I Got You Babe, and the show hosts once again announce the day’s events for Groundhog Day. Phil walks from the lobby to the street running into the exact same people as the day before who tell him the exact same thing as though they were going through it for the first time. Yet for Phil this is the second time, and soon it is the third time, then the fourth, fifth, and pretty soon he loses count.

After getting his brain checked and consulting a psychiatrist, Phil accepts there is no way to escape Punxsutawney or Groundhog Day.  That the particular day celebrates a furry rodent that shares his name only adds insult to injury. But, once he realizes there are absolutely no consequences to his actions Phil starts having fun with his day. He begins with the obvious things such as eating like a pig, robbing a bank by memorizing the guards’ routine, and sleeping with a woman by asking her what high school she went to and then pretending to be a fellow student the next day. The possibilities are endless.

It is when Phil decides to try to get in bed with Rita that things go deeper. Even though he gets to know her gradually through each repeated day, he can never end up with a one-night stand, and instead ends up with a painful montage of slaps to the face. The rejections and constant repeats plunge Phil into a depression and lead to many suicide attempts, but even death won’t release him. Even after electrocuting himself in a bathtub he wakes up the next morning with the same old song playing on the radio.

So, if Phil is cursed to live, he might as well live. He begins to read books, learn to ice sculpt, takes piano lessons, helps out an old man living in the streets, catches a boy falling from a tree, and is nice enough to bring Rita and Larry fresh coffee in the morning. It is sad it took a curse for Phil to become a better man, but being stuck in Groundhog Day turns out to have been the best thing that could have ever happened to him.

Upon realizing he is immortal Phil wonders if he could be a god, although he doesn’t think he is THE god. To be able to die in a car crash and wake up again the next day is certainly enviable, but you don’t need Phil’s curse to ultimately live his perfect day. Physically speaking there was nothing stopping him from being a good man before he got stuck in time. We may all die tomorrow, so why not be the best person we can be today?


A funny thing happens every time I watch Groundhog Day: I tell myself one day I should learn to play the piano and entertain a crowd just like Phil. Or at least bring someone a cup of coffee.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #70: Stand by Me

Another clear influence on Stranger Things, Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me (1986) portrays American kids from a lost era in which they could go on an adventure away from home. Nowadays if children go missing for more than an hour parents try to locate them using cell phone apps, but in the story written by Stephen King four boys in 1959 Oregon go walking in the woods during a long weekend to look for, of all things, a dead body. Their lives are sometimes at risk, they have no way of communicating with their parents, but they will definitely have a story to remember for the rest of their lives.
For many North Americans adults this movie fondly reminded them of a time in their childhood despite the inherent danger. Not so for me since, first of all, there was no time in my childhood when I could possibly go out of the house for more than three hours without my mom getting in her car to go look for me. The there is the fact that I spent a good chunk of my childhood living in Chile and Peru, an…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #77: Spartacus

Spartacus (1960) is an interesting movie in Stanley Kubrick's filmography because it doesn’t really feel like a Stanley Kubrick movie. I don’t exactly know why, but his signature style doesn’t seem to be present unlike in classics such as The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, or Dr. Strangelove. It does however feel like one of those big sword-and-sandals epics in which you have British thespians acting as Roman politicians with the occasional big battle sequence. In that respect it is spectacular and features Kirk Douglas at his best as the titular hero.
The story of the rebel slave Spartacus has inspired a bloody and sexy TV series (so far unseen by me, but I hear it’s great) and the story behind how it was made is one of those cases of life imitating art. The Bryan Cranston film Trumbo tells how screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted in Hollywood during the 1950s for his communist beliefs and had to rebel against the system by writing screenplays for cheap movies under a fake nam…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #79: The Thin Red Line

I once saw an interview in which Christopher Plummer said that what Terrence Malick needs is a writer. He was referring to his experience shooting The New World, which saw his role considerably reduced. The same happened to a much greater extent with Malick’s war movie The Thin Red Line (1998), which saw the screen time of many movie stars reduced to mere minutes amid a 170-minute running time. However you have to hand it to the guy: he knows how to make anything look beautiful, including the carnage of war.
Malick’s movie came out the same year as Saving Private Ryan, so I think that year I had my fill of ultra violent war films and was no too interested in seeing it. Sixteen years later I finally caught up to it on Netflix, but in hindsight the big screen might have been a better option since this is a very visual story. The plot is pretty loose, following one American soldier and sometimes some of his brothers in arms as they make their way through World War II in the Pacific theat…