The Ol' Repeater, Happens Every Time
It's Groundhog Day, a time to worry about if the weather is going to turn warm or if the groundhog, for whatever reason, will or won't see his shadow, so some complicate series of calculations, and then shrug and go back in doors, all to tell us if Spring is going to come early or not (not that he's ever right). It's a dumb and silly tradition and, if it weren't for a certain Bill Murray movie, many of us wouldn't think about the day at all. And yet, because of Groundhog Day, I end up thinking about this day every year. I don't care about the day, I just like the movie.
It's a popular movie, a creative movie unlike many other works released before. It's a story about one man trapped in a time loop, and while the movie wasn't the first to tackle the "time loop trope", it did it so well that this movie became the definition of the trope. When characters get stuck in time loops in other works, it's always compared to Groundhog Day. Characters in shows and movies will literally say, "I'm pulling a Groundhog Day," to quickly inform other characters about their problem (unless you're The Atom on Legends of Tomorrow, in which case you're pulling a "Cause and Effect"). That's the presence this film has at this point.
What makes Groundhog Day so special? Partially because of how well it explores the very concept of a time loop. The character isn't just stuck in the same repeater for five, ten, or fifteen go rounds, quickly figuring out what to do and how to escape. No, Billy Murray's character, weatherman Phil Connors, spends so long in this loop that he gives up any hope of ever escaping it. Although the final cut of the movie is non-specific, the creators of the film stated that Phil spends ten thousand years in the loop, keeping track of how long he'd been in there by reading a single page of a book in a library, and getting through most of the library before the movie ends. He had enough time in there that the very concept of not being in a time loop would be completely foreign to him.
That's something the movie glosses over, making his escape seem like a blessing. In the movie, Phil goes to the small town of Punxsutawney, PA (a town he hates), to witness (and report on) the annual Groundhog Day celebration. Phil, by the way, is a terrible person, self-absorbed and a total ass. When he gets snowed in and can't escape the small town due to a major snow front that comes in during the day, he ends up trapped. Then the escape becomes timeless and existential when Phil wakes up the next day as if the Groundhog festivities never happened because, of course, they haven't. Over and over he's forced to relive the same day, and at first it scary, and then freeing, and then depressing, and then finally Phil learns to accept his new reality and embrace being, as he says, "a god."
Remember, Phil can't die here. Sure, he can kill himself (which he does in a montage of suicide in the middle act of the film), but then he just wakes up back in bed at the start of the day once more. That means he can't end it, he can only embrace it. He learns foreign languages as well as how to play the piano, and he steadily ingrains himself into every life in the town as he memorizes everything that goes on, where people go, and what troubles they might have along the way. The movie sells it as Phil becoming a more complete human, one that isn't so self-absorbed, but really, what else what Phil supposed to do? The town isn't that big, and there's only so much he can do to keep his mind active and no go completely insane.
No, the insanity is going to come after Phil escapes the time loop at the end of the movie. He's been in this repeater for ten millennia, long enough that any concept of a life outside of Punxsutawney has to seem like an illusion. As Phil notes, he wants to move to the town permanently, but really, he already has. How could he function outside the town now that he's been given his freedom. He'd be like an agoraphobic, and the rest of the world would be his problem.
These aren't things you think about until you eighth or tenth viewing of the movie. The first few times you just enjoy the film because it's so funny, and it is. Billy Murray is a treasure, and he sells the crap out of this movie. People may consider him a comedic actor, but Groundhog Day is the first movie where he really showed his range, playing Phil with many layers. He's not just the sarcastic prima donna we see on the outside, but a nuanced, fully realized self, brought to full like by Murray's performance. Of course, he's also hysterical -- this is Bill Murray we're talking about -- and that's what gets you into the movie, to watch Phil experience his time loop over and over and be funny during all of it.
The film wants Phil's end goal to be a good enough person to win the heart of a girl, his new producer Rita Hanson (Andie MacDowell). Early in the film, once Phil realizes he's trapped in the town forever, he starts to learn about Rita, who she is and what she wants from her significant other. He then, by the end of the movie, makes himself into that person. From Phil's perspective it's a full journey, from jerk to realized human. He gets an arc and makes himself someone worthy of love.
From Rita's perspective, though, it's quite a leap. Remember, on the first day (before the repeater) Phil is a total ass. And then, the next day (as far as she knows), Phil is kind and sweet and does all the things she likes. He a different person because, really, he's had about 135 lifetimes to grown and change. She doesn't know this, but the fact that she doesn't get to see the evolution of Phil of the course makes her eventually falling for the "new" him seem just a little weird. Again, this isn't something you think about the first couple of times you watch the film -- Rita is a constant presence in the film, even if her memory is wiped time and again each day. It just sticks in your brain once you start thinking about how weird this how loop most seem from the outside, as a single, linear day.
Does that matter, though? Does that perspective on the movie change your perception as an audience member? I'd argue now. While it might seem strange that Phil suddenly changes, he becomes a person everyone wants to be around. Sure, after a few days of not being stuck in a time loop Phil likely went crazy and killed everyone so he could live alone in the town, propping up their corpses so he could have the same conversations with them, again and again, until he died. But for a day or two, Phil gets his happy ending.
I love Groundhog Day. I choose to think Phil doesn't go crazy and that everything works out like it should. I mean, if he was just going to become an evil super villain a week later, wouldn't the time loop have just kept him trapped until he burned that off as well? I like to think so./p>