Groundhog Day

Whether or not you saw this gem of a film on the big screen back in the last century, it’s worth hunting for the DVD or adding it to your Netflix queue. If you invest, look for the “special edition” DVD, which may still be in the ‘mark-down’ section at your local big-box retailer or discount house. In addition to the entire theatrical film (of course), you’ll find a remarkable documentary, “The Weight of Time.” Here, along with the usual behind-the-scenes, ‘Making of…’ clips, and commentary from members of the cast and crew, you’re treated to a fascinating exploration of the nature of time, especially as it plays out in the repetitious Groundhog Day experienced by the film’s main character.

The film is enjoyable enough as a romantic comedy/fantasy where we follow a TV weatherman, Phil (Bill Murray), and his crew “on assignment” to report on the official prognostications about spring from that most eminent of meteorological sages, Punxsatawney Phil. But before the adventure ends, our hero Phil has dropped into a time-warp and finds himself circling eternally through the worst day of his life.

And then there are the implications about decisions and consequences and rules and choices and actions. All this in a simple little comedy!?!?! For sure.

Initially, it takes weather-guy Phil three or four trips through Groundhog Day before he tumbles to what’s happening. After a frustrating few days, Phil finds himself in a conversation with a couple of good-ole-boys at the local café counter. One fellow describes Phil as a “glass-half-empty kinda guy,” and he responds, “What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same and nothing that you did mattered?”

The second fellow thinks for a minute and says, “That about sums it up for me.” Of course, that realization encourages the trio to drink up.

Soon, the three decide to end the night joy-riding around town in an old red Cadillac. As the most sober member of the group, Phil gets behind the wheel, saying, “Let me ask you guys a question. What if there were no tomorrow?”

One companion lets that sink in. “No tomorrow…. That would mean there would be no consequences. There would be no hangovers. We could do whatever we wanted.”

“That’s true,” says Phil. “We could do whatever we want.” And he promptly runs down a mailbox. Of course, the watching cops give chase. By the time they show up in the Caddy’s rear-view mirror, Phil decides to drive the car down the railroad tracks, declaring, “I’m not going to live by their rules any more. You make choices and you live with them.” Ultimately, the trio’s adventure ends when the car crashes and the cops arrive.

Once Phil’s bedside clock flips — again — from 5:59 to 6:00 the next morning and he heads downstairs for breakfast — again — he realizes the cops are not looking for him because of the previous night’s bender. No consequences for whatever he does, right? Well….

Living through who-knows-how-many-thousands of Groundhog Days with Phil, we watch him deal what becomes the spiritual question we all face — “What do I want to do with my life?” We know Phil’s made an important shift when his focus changes from “There’s nothing I can do about it, ” to “Is there anything I can do for you today?”

But then, this is just a funny little film, right? Hmmm….

Cast: Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, Chris Elliott, Stephen Tobolowsky
Director: Harold Ramis
Theatrical release: 1993; available on DVD

Copyright ©2013 Jill J. Jensen | Clarity from Chaos