Does anyone still remember Groundhog Day? In case you don’t, it’s an absolutely classic piece of cinema created in a golden age where everyone respected Bill Murray and Harold Ramis was both alive and culturally relevant. Although movies like Freaky Friday and Big had already established clear ground rules for body switching, Groundhog Day was one of the first big attempts to make a commercial film where the protagonist was stuck in a time loop and shenanigans ensued.
The basic outline is that Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is both a small-town weatherman and a world-class dickbag. After shooting a local interest piece about Punxsutawney Phil, a Groundhog who locals believe controls the weather, big Phil threatens to throw a tantrum unless he, his cameraman and his producer (Andie MacDowell) immediately leave the town of Punxsutawney. But when attempting to escape, the team find a blizzard has shut all roads, forcing them to spend another night in the town that believes in magic animals.
But here’s where it gets interesting; when Phil wakes up the following day, he realises that it’s February 2nd. The only problem is that yesterday was also February 2nd. Phil’s trapped reliving the same day on repeat, over and over again, and he’s the only one who realises.
Now initially, he does all the things that you or I would do in a consequence-free environment. He drinks, steals and sleeps with basically anything that moves. In fact he even takes it a step further by going out of his way to uncover the town’s secrets and use them to seduce and/or ridicule each resident individually. But eventually this life of easy hedonism becomes depressing, leading to more and more self-destructive behaviour. Phil resolves to kill himself and take that goddamned weather-predicting rat with him, driving off a cliff and into a quarry before waking up, safely in bed on February 2nd. Concluding that the only useful way to spend time is to help others and improve himself, Phil starts to use his power for good, beginning every morning by saving Punxsutawney from calamity and eventually learning skills like ice sculpture, French and jazz piano. This path of self-improvement leads to Andie MacDowell falling in love with him and, surprise surprise, breaking the time loop. It’s all very charming and life affirming, carrying a message about karma and paying it forward.
Except, when you think about it, Groundhog Day is completely f*$king insane.
The first thing that you have to realise is that, in the Groundhog Day Universe, God is an absolute certainty. No matter how you look at it, someone (or something) decided to punish Phil Connors for his dickbaggery. This isn’t random bad luck; the worst person in the movie is stuck in the time loop, and he’s only freed when he becomes a good person. That’s judgement, passed by some terrifying creature that can manipulate both space and time.
But it gets even worse. You see, there’s a fundamental misunderstanding about how the mechanics of time travel works in Groundhog Day-the day can’t be starting again from the beginning, because Bill Murray has a clear memory of every day prior. Every action, reaction and interaction really happened and they all required the consumption of time, so it still has to exist somewhere. Instead, it’s more like whatever god rules this desolate existence is using copy and paste on the days that have already occurred, before rewinding everything except Phil Connors to zero. But can you imagine how much energy that must take? This terrifying sky monster reversed people’s lives, the rotations of planets, the entire existence of universes that we can’t even begin to fathom just to fuck with one guy who was just kinda rude. This is the 1993; Saddam was consolidating his power in Iraq and thousands of Tutsi Africans were being slaughtered on a daily basis but nah, we all know that Bill Murray is the real bad guy here.
And what’s his punishment? Eternal life? The ability to learn any skill with absolutely no consequence? Through his karmic punishment, Phil actually became Nietzsche’s ubermensch; not only does the sun rise for him, the world spins and every human being exists only for his amusement.
Estimates for the timescale in Groundhog Day range between eight years, eight months and just under thirty-four years, either of which is far too long for any reasonable god to halt existence out of sheer maniacal spite.
But the worst part, the absolute bottom-of-the-barrel holy shit revelation about Groundhog Day, is that Phil is completely aware of all this. He has to be. He’s had a minimum of eight years with a single question; why me? Out of all the shitty people in the world, why am I being punished like this? There are two sequences that I guarantee didn’t make the final cut; Phil locking himself in Punxsutawney library, reading everything he can about quantum physics, philosophy and theology, and Phil laying in bed for weeks at a time when he realises that not only does God exist, but hates him more than any being that has ever existed. I mean seriously, even Judas was allowed to go out on his own terms. Groundhog Day is the story of a man annexed by the entire universe, for the crime of being grumpy when forced to complete a dull task. If that’s the punishment, then I’ll see you in 34 years.