Groundhog Day (1993, Harold Ramis)
It’s a film about repetition that stands up to repeated viewings. It’s a Hollywood comedy that’s actually funny. And it’s first stop on The Bill Murray Film Calendar (more on that later).
Murray had already done the nasty-guy-has-supernatural-experience-and-becomes-nice-guy genre when he made Scrooged, Richard Donner’s 1988 update of A Christmas Carol. Groundhog Day uses the same basic concept, but this time Murray’s stuck in a time loop rather than visited by Yuletide ghosts.
It’s interesting that we simply accept the time loop despite not being offered any explanation for it. This is similar to the way we accept the out of the blue time travel in Midnight in Paris. If we’re sufficiently engaged by the leading character – and they accept what’s happening to them – we’ll accept it too. And there’s something appealing about the way Phil Connors is trapped in a particular place (the unpromising Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania) and a particular time (February 2nd, starting at 6 am). Scrooge and Frank Cross were never trapped in a spatial-temporal purgatory. The stakes are higher than in Scrooged. Phil has to change.
Assuming, of course, that you think Phil’s predicament is so bad. After all, he’s immortal and can do anything he likes – within the limits of what’s possible in Punxsutawney. But immortality is presented as a curse because nothing progresses. Every day is the same as the last. We sense that aging is preferable to the alternative. Perhaps being stuck in heaven would be equally tedious. It would just be happy-clappy shepherds singing Kumbaya on top of a cloud. Forever.
Groundhog Day is actually a long spell in purgatory. Phil ends up in heaven, but it’s a down to earth heaven, in the form of a conventional life with Andie MacDowell. Surprisingly, a lot of people see this as a religious film. In fact, Groundhog Day shows us the desirability of a conventional, everyday life. It reassures us about the natural process of life and death. It’s better to wake up every morning and find yourself a day older than to be stuck in a moment you can’t get out of. This isn’t a religious film. It’s a self-help manual on how to accept death. Disguised as a rom-com.
The Bill Murray Film Calendar
Groundhog Day – Groundhog Day
Meatballs/Caddyshack – summer
Ghostbusters – autumn
Scrooged – Christmas
Ghostbusters II – New Year’s Eve
Andrew Bowles and Sam Bowles