“What if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.”
“Groundhog Day” is a 1993 movie that asks the question, “What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?” It was based on a story by Danny Rubin, directed by Harold Ramis and stars Bill Murray as Phil Connors, a weatherman for WPBH-TV in Pittsburgh, Pa., and Andie McDowell as Rita, his new producer.
It is February 1st, the day before Groundhog Day. Immediately following the five o’clock news and weather, Phil and Rita and their cameraman Larry (Chris Elliot) drive from Pittsburgh to Punxsutawney to cover that town’s annual Groundhog Day celebration. Next day, after taping their report, they head back to Pittsburgh but are halted by an unexpected blizzard and forced to return to Punxsutawney. The following morning, for the second day in a row, Phil wakes up at six o’clock to the sound of Sonny and Cher singing, “I’ve Got You, Babe” on the radio. (Not a bad choice, certainly, but wouldn’t “Yesterday Once More” by the Carpenters have been perfect?) He soon realizes that he is reliving the previous day, as if it had never happened.
By day number three, Phil begins to understand that he is caught in a time loop of some kind, with no choice but to continue to relive Groundhog Day over and over. In Ramis’ hands, this whimsical premise turns out to be a fruitful one. Phil quickly grasps that there are no lasting consequences to anything he does, and that, no matter what, he will wake up the next morning and it will be Groundhog Day all over again. Watching his repeated, futile attempts to break out of the time loop, I was reminded of Bob Dylan’s “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again”:
Here I sit so patiently
Waiting to find out what price
You have to pay to get out of
Going through all these things twice.
In these early scenes, we see clearly that Phil is a first-class jerk, arrogant, self-centered, and rude. When asked, “What are you doing for dinner?” he replies, “Something else.” He refers to the people of Punxsutawney as morons and hicks, and is not above using to his advantage the knowledge he has gained from having experienced this day many times before: to seduce the locals and rob an armored car, for example.
His attempts to charm the lovely Rita, however, seem doomed to failure. “I know you’re egocentric,” she tells him. “It’s your defining characteristic.” She even recites from “My Native Land” by Sir Walter Scott:
…The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonour’d, and unsung.
Being himself is getting Phil nowhere – literally – not with Rita and not out of the time loop either. He finally comes to realize that Rita is worth trying to change for, and watching him make the effort,
Bill Murray and Andie McDowell are perfect in the lead roles, and the supporting cast is first-rate. With Bill Murray, there always seems to be an unspoken, ironic sub-text, some private joke, while Andie McDowell, on the other hand, is the soul of sincerity.
“Groundhog Day” is the ideal date night movie: It is romantic, yet projects a rare, mischievous kind of humor. It deals with a question we have all asked ourselves: “If I had my life to live over again, what would I do differently?” except that in this case, the question is, “If I had one day – today – to live over again, what would I do differently?” Phil’s answer turns out to be the same as many of ours: I would try to be kinder.