I recently watched Groundhog Day again – and before we go any further, please, just insert your own joke here. In case, somehow, you missed it, and my joke has just sailed past you, Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, an ambitious and obnoxious Pittsburgh TV weatherman doomed to replay the same day over and over again, in the small town of Punxsutawney. (Punxsutawney, by the way, is a real place which really is famous for its Groundhog Day ceremony.) The film was made in 1993, and was a commercial and critical success. The title has entered the language.
Watching it again, three thoughts come to mind.
- The first is that the film is a reworking of Beauty and the Beast – but in this version the Beast (Murray) is trapped in time until he discovers his humanity. Only after he has done this can he win the love of the beauty.
- The second is the large nod in the direction of Frank Capra and the small town America of It’s A Wonderful Life, Just as George Bailey can’t escape from Bedford Falls, so Phil Connorscan’t escape from Punxsutawney. And – spoiler alert – when he is free to leave he decides he wants to stay there forever. There’s even snow.
- Because of the film’s structure (it’s set almost entirely in an endless sequence of February 2nds) it is, obviously, able to play games with narrative. But Connors’ journey appears to follow Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief, as he moves through disbelief to anger, to depression and acceptance.
It’s said that the director, Harold Ramis, wanted more comedy while Bill Murray wanted more philosophy. The tension probably explains the film’s enduring quality. And it’s hard, in hindsight, to watch Groundhog Day and not to think of a later film starring Murray, Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation, about a man coming to terms with himself while trapped in a strange location.
The picture comes from an interesting retrospective article about Groundhog Day in The Film Journal, which describes the film as “one of the cinema’s greatest exercises in repetition”