Everyone loves the 1993 comedy Groundhog Day. It’s become a classic comedy that fans can watch again and again. There’s laughs, romance, emotion and one heck of an unusual predicament that Bill Murray’s weatherman Phil Connors finds himself in when he arrives in Punxutawney, Pennsylvania on Groundhog Day.
Everyone knows the story, but to be brief. Murray’s Phil travels to Punxsutawney to report on the annual Groundhog Day festival. Phil is not happy with this assignment. He doesn’t like the town, the quaint townfolk and feels like having to be there is beneath him. He’s got his sights set higher and will soon be headed to a new job at a bigger television station where he thinks his talents will be better used, and he’ll be better paid for it.
With new sunny producer Rita (Andie MacDowell) and Larry the cameraman (Chris Elliott), Phil counts down the minutes until he can get this report about this groundhog seeing his shadow or not over and done with. He doesn’t warm himself to his co-workers and has contempt towards the town he’s forced to stay in.
Unfortunately for Phil, a snowstorm prevents his departure from Punxutawney. Begrudgingly he goes back to his inn and he has to stay another night.
When he awakens it’s Groundhog Day again. It’s the same exact day as Phil just experienced. Phil is caught in a bizarre time loop where Groundhog Day is being celebrated and the festivities begin again and again – and there’s nothing he can do about it.
Over the course of the story, Phil is first amused by his situation, he fails to romance Rita, he goes through all the stages of depression, he becomes suicidal and finally accepts this gift of endless time to become a better person. He learns new skills, discovers the towns folk are actually pretty special people and transforms himself into a person worthy of winning the heart of Rita.
Once Phil’s change is complete his long day finally ends.
Groundhog Day is a wonderful movie and it deserves all the accolades it receives. It’s one of Murray’s best films and the concept and execution of it is perfect. It’s a moral tale that can touch you. It’s been analyzed, interpreted and even embraced by some religious groups for being a spiritual analogy. It’s become a tradition for fans to annually rewatch the film on February 2nd. And, leaving all that aside, it’s a very funny movie.
As much as I like Groundhog Day, there was always a scene that I thought was awfully strange and really stands out in this xerox morality tale.
The whole film is told from Phil’s perspective. We see him relive his countless repetitive days over and over again. Others are completely oblivious and to them are experiencing everything in each day for the first time, while Phil has every word, situation and event that takes place committed to memory.
For awhile he enjoys being ahead of everyone and there being no repercussions for his actions. He’ll steal money from a bank, spend his day dressed up as Clint Eastwood, romance the town hottie or sit at the local diner and gouge down a buffet of desserts.
Nothing Phil does matters. The day will end and Phil will once again wake up hearing ‘I Got You Babe’ on the clock radio. The day will be wiped clean and he’ll be forced to do go through the day again.
This continuous ‘Groundhog Day’ eventually begins to get old for Phil. Moving into the throngs of depression, Phil decides to kill himself. Desperate to escape what has now become a nightmare for him, Phil throws himself in front of trucks, electrocutes himself and hurls himself off a building. His suicidal deeds do end that’s particular day for him alright. But the next thing he knows, Phil awakes in his bed at 6AM hearing Sonny and Cher again.
Phil’s suicide attempts are fruitless exercises and doesn’t get him out of his time loop. Initially, we see how these grim events unfold in this ‘Groundhog Day’. Phil finds ways to kill himself, it ends his day in a violent fashion, the screen goes black and he wakes up again in bed.
Yet, there’s a scene that follows one of Phil’s suicides where suddenly we’re no longer viewing the day from Phil’s point of view. Phil is lying dead, and Rita and Larry are identifying his body at the morgue.
It’s an awfully strange moment. I never understood why director Harold Ramis decided to include it. I don’t think the audience needed to verify that Phil actually managed to kill himself in attempts. We understood that death is not an escape from Groundhog Day and he’ll be waking up in his bed again. The screen going to black after Phil steps in front of a truck is enough.
During this one scene, we’re no longer viewing this repeating Groundhog Day from Phil’s point of view. He is as dead as a door nail laying there. We suddenly witness others are still proceeding through the day after Phil’s demise.
We learn Groundhog Day continues regardless whether Phil is dead or not.
There are unanswered questions about Groundhog Day. How is this time loop happening? Why is Phil the victim of it? How long has Phil been stuck in it? This one morgue scene adds another wrinkle.
Initially, I would have thought these are all ‘Phil’s Days’. When Phil kills himself, that in essence ends the day – not only for himself, but for the whole town of Punxsutawney.
Let me get deeper into this – and yes, I very well might be overthinking this. Phil kills himself, the screen not only goes black for him, but for the whole town and everyone in it. Rita, Larry, Ned Ryerson, once Phil dies everyone is put back into their starting positions and the day is going to start again from there. Once Phil is dead that’s when the reset happens.
Us seeing Phil lying dead in the morgue with Rita and Larry standing over his body, we clearly see the day is still moving along despite Phil successfully killing himself.
So, this makes me wonder. Does the entire Groundhog Day move forward whether Phil is alive or not? Clearly, Phil’s day has ended (he’s dead). So, does everyone else’s day continue on after the point of his death? Do Rita and Larry go through a day of shock and disbelief mourning the sudden death of their colleague? Do they make calls back to the television station to tell them about Phil’s demise? Do they have to make arrangements for Phil’s body?
And how long does time move forward after Phil dies? Does the entire Groundhog Day progress to the end even with Phil laying in a freezer? He’s not part of the day anymore. How does the rest of those days go after Phil’s suicides? Do all the citizens of Punxsutawney hear about the shocking suicide of the minor celebrity Phil Connors, gossip about it at the Tip Top Cafe and prepare to hold a vigil for him after Phil the Groundhog does his bit?
Do Rita, Larry and the whole town experience a full day of disbelief after Phil’s demise until Phil’s clock radio hits 6AM and then at that point everything resets? Those must of been some pretty rough days for Rita seeing Phil dead. The two might not have hit it off initially, but Rita is such a kind, caring person, Phil’s death must have been pretty upsetting for her. So, I guess she grieves until 6AM.
OR, here’s another thought, what if there are multiple timeline realities that are being created every day Phil awakens? Could each day be the start of an alternate reality that continues on even after Groundhog Day ends?
Could there be a alternate timeline where ‘a Phil’ becomes convicted of robbing the bank. A timeline where an investigation is launched on why he would kidnap Phil the Groundhog. A timeline where townsfolk require counseling after witnessing Phil jumping in front of a car. Multiple timelines of Phil being rejected by Rita and them having to continue to awkwardly work together until he leaves the TV station and goes to his new job?
Probably not, but it’s just a thought. Anyway, I always found that one scene in Groundhog Day kind of odd.