“It’s always February 2nd, and there’s nothing I can do about it”: Groundhog Day’s 25th Anniversary

A look back at the Bill Murray classic, 25 years later.

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“It’s always February 2nd, and there’s nothing I can do about it”: Groundhog Day’s 25th Anniversary

Kellin Cremeens, Writer

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The daily “grind” is a universal experience. Most people have a daily routine they go through: Wake up at 6 a.m., eat breakfast, get dressed, drive to work, etc. This act, doing the same thing every day, can prove to be borderline torture for people. Some people long to break free from the monotonous daily cycle and not be doomed to do the same thing every day. This idea has been tackled in numerous movies. Fight Club, American Beauty, and most movies about high school include this idea; breaking free from the monotony of everyday life. But, few movies have included this idea as literally as Groundhog Day.

I believe Groundhog Day is a perfect movie. I could honest-to-God talk about it all day.  In fact, I believe it’s one of three perfect movies in existence (the other two being Back to the Future and The Truman Show, in case you were curious.) So if you were expecting an objective review…I’m sorry?

Groundhog Day is the story of narcissistic weatherman Phil Connors (played by Bill Murray), who is sent to the town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to report on the small town’s annual celebration of Groundhog Day. Phil is miserable the entire time. He hates the town, the people in it, and sees the whole holiday as “a thousand people freezing their butts off waiting to worship a rat.” The next day, he wakes up and discovers that it’s February 2nd, Groundhog Day, all over again. Phil finds himself in a time loop, forced to relive February 2nd over and over again, until he gets it right.

The premise serves as a perfect vehicle for the comedic talents of both Bill Murray and co-writer/director Harold Ramis (their sixth, final, and best collaboration). The “time loop” allows for an infinite number of possibilities for the sarcastic, constantly-miserable Phil Connors. At first, he uses the loop to do whatever he wants, repercussion free.  He robs banks, commits crimes, drives recklessly, and eats whatever he wants. Eventually, he decides to use the loop to attempt to seduce his producer, Rita (played by Andie Macdowell). But, as Phil grows bored with the loop, and his attempts to “woo” Rita fail, Groundhog Day becomes much more than a silly Bill Murray comedy.

In his loop, Phil practically lives an entire life (it’s unconfirmed how long exactly Phil spends in the loop, but it’s estimated to be at least 35 years). He goes through the care-free recklessness of youth; when he takes advantage of the loop to drive on the train tracks, order everything on a menu, and seduce younger women. There’s the resigned bitterness of middle-age; when he feels trapped in the loop and, in a darkly comedic montage, attempts to commit suicide, only to wake up the next day, on February 2nd. Finally, when Phil “learns his lesson”, he experiences the kind wisdom that comes with living a full life, and he starts using his infinite time to improve the lives of those around him.

Along with this, there’s an underlying theme of self-improvement in Groundhog Day.  Phil’s lesson is rather simple: true happiness comes from making others happy. But, for someone as selfish and egotistical as Phil, it takes a very, very long time. And that’s where another part of the message comes in: self-improvement doesn’t happen overnight. And that’s one of the things I love about Groundhog Day. Phil never has a “eureka!” moment. There’s no rapid shift in his character. He doesn’t go from “mean and narcissistic” to “kind and selfish” in one day. His development is gradual, subtle, and, most importantly, earned. This change is played beautifully by Bill Murray, who gives the best performance of his career.

A stand-out scene comes about ¾ of the way through, after Phil spends a loop with Rita. Phil, who is now closer to being his reformed self, attempts to save the life of an elderly homeless man. Day after day, loop after loop, Phil attempts to save this man’s life, something he most likely wouldn’t have done at the start of the film. But, no matter how hard he tries, Phil can’t save him. He tries taking him to a hospital, performing CPR, feeding him soup, but none of it works. Phil is forced to watch this old man die countless times and has to come to grips with the fact that he can’t be saved. It feels unfair, and Phil’s desperation is heart-wrenching to watch. It’s here that he learns why making others happy, and making the most out of every day, is so important; because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.

The 2nd to last scene encapsulates all of this. Phil, after spending his final loop helping the people of Punxsutawney, confesses his love to Rita; the woman he’s gotten to know over the past 30-or-so years. “No matter what happens tomorrow, or for the rest of my life,” he says, “I’m happy now, because I love you.” Phil, someone who started the movie constantly focused on the future, is now able to experience true joy in the present.

Groundhog Day is a movie about the repetition of everyday life. But, it’s not a movie about breaking the cycle. It’s a movie about making the most of the cycle. It’s a movie about happiness coming from making others happy. It takes a bizarre, imaginative, and unique premise and turns it into a deeply profound and touching story.

Oh, and it’s also really funny.

 

Things I wanted to talk about but couldn’t fit in the article:

  • “NED?!” *punch*
  • The scene where Phil kidnaps the groundhog and drives off of a cliff.
  • “I’m a god- I’m not the God, I don’t think.”
  • Danny Rubin, who wrote the script, never really wrote another movie. Can you blame him? I mean, if this was your first movie, would you really want to do a second?