Skip to comments.GROUNDHOG DAY [the best, most intelligent and deeply layered films of the last decade]
Posted on 01/23/2005 3:44:28 AM PST by Roscoe Karns
GROUNDHOG DAY [Jonah Goldberg]
I watched it again last night. I may have seen it more times than Bill Murray repeated GHD. It got me thinking. I think it may be one of the best, most intelligent and deeply layered films of the last decade. I won't go out on the rhetorical limb the way Jonathan Last did when he said Buffy the Vampire Slayer "is the best show in the history of television." But I do think there is so much more going in Groundhog Day than most people realize. There's theology, metaphysics, psychology and most of it is remarkably understated and remarkably funny. No one ever mentions anything like Nietzsche's doctrine of the eternal return, or even explains why Murray comes so close to bedding Andie McDowell and then fails over and over again because he can't fake his sincerity. The use of irony in the second snowman scene is brilliant. And, let's face facts, there are few funnier lines in the history of cinema than (I'm quoting from memory): "This is one of those times where television really fails to capture the true excitement of a large squirrel predicting the weather."
Anyway, just one layman's opinion.
I had to get a Robin (NOT FUNNY) Williams dig in there.
BUT let's hear some imput from some smart Freepers re: Goldberg's statements. Is Groundhog Day "one of the best, most intelligent and deeply layered films of the last decade "?
Hey, everybody, I'm Bill Murray!
. (Yeah! Who's ironic now?!!)
Calling all movie buffs...
I've seen GD many times, and also think it's one of the greatest movies ever.
To me, the essential meaning is that until someone loves and cares about someone else, not in a narcissistical, way but in a deep and abiding manner, life is meaningless and every day is fundamentally empty and the same.
That is one of the few movies i have ever bothered to watch more than once. It is a very good movie.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
It's clever and cute.
Two thumbs up, Roger.
NO, because it was made in 1993:-)
Bill Murray mentions my hometown in the very first scene. What's not to like?
It was a good show, but with seasons 4, 6 and 7 sucking badly for the most part, it's definitely a far cry from best.
Of course, if I were rational, I'd agree. I think the writers got in over their heads, frankly. Still I've rarely seen a TV show that made me think theologically the way that one did.
But I'm not rational. So I have to take offense. Please consider this post to be full of the personal attacks and so forth which I would type if it weren't so cold that my fingers are unable to m o v e.
An example of an exceptional work of moral fiction is the apparently minor comedy, Groundhog Day, which shows us a character who has to be exiled from normal life so he can discover that he is in exile from himself. In the movie, actor Bill Murray plays Phil, an arrogant, Scroogelike weather forecaster who spends the night in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where he is to do a broadcast the next day about the annual ritual of the coming out of the groundhog. He wakes up the next morning, does his story and is annoyed to discover that he is trapped in Punxsutawney for a second night because of a snowstorm that comes in after the groundhog ceremony.
When he wakes up in his guest house room the next morning, lo and behold, it is the morning of the day before all over again. Everything that happened to him the previous day -- the man trying to start a conversation at the top of the stairs; the old high school acquaintance recognizing him on the street, the ritual of groundhog day -- it all happens again.
And, once again, due to inclement weather, he is forced to spend the night. When he wakes up the next morning, it is the same day as yesterday and the day before, with the same oncoming snowstorm keeping him stuck in town and the same events repeating themselves like a broken record.
And so it goes, day after day, as this misanthrope of a human being finds himself trapped in Punxsutawney on groundhog day in what science fiction would refer to as a time loop. If he does nothing different, events will repeat themselves as they were on the original day. But if he changes his behavior, people will respond to his new actions, opening up all kinds of possibilities for playing with the unfolding of events. Either way, with each "new" day, he alone remembers what happened in previous editions of the same day.
At first Murray's character responds with bewilderment. Then he despairs and begins to treat life as a game: he risks his life and gorges on food, expressing both his sense of hopelessness and his growing recognition that, no matter what he does, time will reset itself and he will wake up as if nothing had happened.
In one scene, which turns out to be central to the movie's theme, he expresses his despair to two working class drinking buddies in a local bar.
One of his two inebriated companions then points to a beer glass and sums up the way he is responding to his situation: "You know, some guys would look at this glass and they would say, you know, 'that glass is half empty'. Other guys'd say 'that glass is half full'. I bet you is (or I peg you as) a 'the glass is half empty' kind of guy. Am I right?"
But as the days pass endlessly into the same day, this half-empty character finally finds a purpose in life: learning everything he can about his female producer, Rita, played by Andie MacDowell, so he can pretend to be her ideal man and seduce her. When that fails, and his efforts net him slap after slap, day after day, his despair deepens and he begins to spend his days killing himself. He kidnaps the groundhog and drives over a ledge into a quarry; he takes a plugged-in toaster into the bath; and he jumps off a building, always waking up whole in the morning.
In desperation, he reveals his plight to the female producer and she stays with him (without sex), in his room, through the night. Once again, he wakes up alone in the same day.
But, enriched by this experience of intimacy, and by the fact that someone actually liked him for who he is, he finally figures out a constructive response -- he begins to live his life in the day allotted to him, or, rather, he begins to live the life he never lived before. Instead of allowing circumstances to impose themselves on him, he takes control of circumstances, aided by the fact that he has all the time in the world and the safety of knowing what will happen next.
He begins to take piano lessons from a music teacher who is continuously surprised at how proficient he is, since she always believes it is his first lesson. He learns how to be an ice sculptor, which is the perfect art form for him since everything he does will have melted away when he wakes up anyway. And he becomes more generous.
Then, an encounter with death -- an old vagrant dies in his day -- has a deep effect on him. At first, he can't accept the man's death and, in at least one subsequent edition of the day, he tries to be good to the old man, taking him out to eat (for a last meal) and trying, unsuccessfully, to keep him alive.
When he stops trying to force death to relent, his final defenses fall away and his compassion for the old man transfers to the living. He begins to use his knowledge of how the day will unfold to help people. Knowing that a child will always fall from a tree at a certain time, he makes it a point to be there and catch the child every time. Knowing that a man will choke on his meal, he is always at a nearby table in the restaurant to save him.
Slowly, he goes through a transformation. Having suffered himself, he is able to empathize with other people's suffering. Having been isolated from society, he becomes a local hero in Punxsutawney.
Now, he sees the glass as half full, and the day as a form of freedom. As he expresses it in a corny TV speech about the weather that he gives for the camera, at the umpteenth ceremony he has covered of the coming out of the groundhog:
"When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. But standing here among the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the of warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn't imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter."
In other words, having accepted the conditions of life and learned the pleasures afforded by human companionship, he is no longer like all those people who fear life's travails, and try to use the weather forecast, by human or groundhog, to control events. He accepts "winter" as an opportunity.
Finally, the female producer falls in love with the good person he has become and she again spends the night (although he falls asleep so, again, there is no sex.) They wake up in the morning. She is still there and it is the next day.
In a last bit of irony, the couple, (who get to know each other, in the Biblical sense, once the new day begins), decide to settle down in Punxsutawney. Like Maxwell Klinger in the last episode of MASH, Murray's character will end up living in the one place he couldn't wait to escape.
What is so powerful about Groundhog Day is the way it lets us experience what it would be like to make a breakthrough like this in our own lives. The movie shows us a character who is like the worst in ourselves. He is arrogant and sarcastic, absorbed in his own discomforts, without hope, and cut off from other people. Like us, he finds himself in an inexplicable situation, seemingly a plaything of fate. But, unlike us, he gets the luxury of being stuck in the same day until he gets it right. Whereas most of us go semi-automatically through most of our (very similar) days, he is forced to stop and treat each day like a world onto itself, and decide how to use it. In the end, he undergoes a breakthrough to a more authentic self in which intimacy, creativity and compassion come naturally - a self that was trapped inside him and that could only be freed by trapping him. Like many of the heroes of fiction, he can only escape his exile from himself by being exiled in a situation not of his choosing.
In telling this story, the movie hits on a message that is commonly found elsewhere and that appears to express an essential truth. When we get beyond denial and resentment over the conditions of life and death, and accept our situation, it tells us, then life ceases to be a problem and we can become authentic and compassionate. Murray's character makes two such breakthroughs: first he accepts being condemned to being stuck in the same day, then he accepts the fact that everyone else is condemned to die.
Inevitably, the movie also has mythic resonances and literary counterparts. Murray's character is like all kinds of saviors and heroes in well-known stories, secular and religious, who experience some combination of suffering and courage, until they go through a transformation to a new state of knowledge. Among the religious and mythic elements we can recognize in the story: he fights off his demons; he is changed by an encounter with death; he experiences a kind of rebirth; he appears to people to exist in time but he also exists outside of normal time; he manifests deep compassion; he is in the world but not of it, suffering with a special knowledge that he uses to save those around him; and he is given a second chance in life by the love of a beautiful woman. He condenses images of Buddha and the Beast, Scrooge and Jesus.
But the movie keeps myth and archetype, as well as message, blessedly in the background. It also employs only a little visual spectacle and only the barest minimum of fantasy, in the form of the ever-repeating day, to tell the story. It is effective because it is understated, allowing Murray and the theme to engage us.
Perhaps it gets a little too sweet as it moves toward a conclusion, but that is forgivable. At the end, it saves itself from going over the top by revealing that Murray's character still has some of the old, calculating, self inside him. As he and his new mate walk out of the guest house into the new, snow-covered day, he exclaims, with his new enthusiastic wonder at life: "Its so beautiful -- Lets live here."
Then, after the obligatory kiss, he adds: "We'll rent to start."
Happily-ever-after is very nice, the character slyly tells us. But in the real world it's important to keep your options open, just in case you need to beat a quick retreat.
You should e-mail him.
Hair splitter. :)
Are you sure?
Thanks, will do.
I *LOVE* 'Groundhog Day'.
Ok, I give up. What is it.
"Back To The Future" gets some points for cleverness, complexity and multi-layering, too.
And don't get me started on "Tommy Boy". Well, maybe not in the complexity dept., but it's the king of movies that get better (and funnier) the more you see it.
Elle Bee, thank you for posting this review. I needed to read that today.
Or so I hear...
Or maybe not
CONFIRMED...........Groundhogday *LOVES* you.
If you ever care to make that email public I'd love to read it.
athe the Schooner Wharf down here in Key West we have replaced our participation in the Breakfast Club (Beer it's not just for breakfast anymore) with a Groundhog Day Club (every day in the Schooner is the same) and the morality of doing something positive in the face of recidivist mediocrity has worked out well
My favorite line:
"Don't drive angry. Don't Drive angry!" just before Murray drives the truck over the cliff while the GH is sitting on his lap.
It's really not much more than what I posted, but here it is:
I've seen GD many times, and also think it's one of the greatest movies ever.
To me, the essential meaning is that until someone loves and cares about someone else, not in a narcissistic way, but in a deep and abiding manner, life is meaningless and every day is fundamentally empty and the same.
Oh, and it's very funny. One of my favorite moments is when Murray drives the pickup into the quarry pit.
When the truck crashes, cameraman Chris Elliott, who of course detests Murray, half-heartedly says to Andie McDowell "he may have survived." Then the truck explodes in a tremendous ball of flame, whereupon Elliott laconically observes "well, maybe not."
Believe it or not I've never seen the Money Pit. I hear it's good, though. My personal nomination for 2nd most funny movie ever: Easy Money.
SOMEBODY ASKED ME TODAY:
PHIL, IF YOU COULD BE ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE?
AND I SAID TO HIM, PROBABLY RIGHT HERE -- ELKO, NEVADA -- OUR NATION'S HIGH AT 79.
ROTFLMAO! In other words, consider this a virtual flame,since I am unable to provide you with a real one at this time!
And most certainly an excersize at looking at yourself, seeing the problems and realizing there is always time and circumstance to make adjustments and corrections.
GHD is the memory reliving events and working on those corrections ... conviction, if you will, repentence and getting things right.
(hated the damned thing)
Of course I'm kidding.
It's one of my favorite movies along with Cold Comfort Farm. I watch it every February.
It's one of my favorite movies along with Cold Comfort Farm. I watch it every February.
"Kelly's Heroes" and "Local Hero"
I've said that for years Mrs. Rightly Biased just don'et get it I really like Groundhog Day..
BTW "Don't drive on the Railroad tracks"
i llhave to agree with the author it probably is all that and more i love ground hog day
I was very bored with Groundhog Day, it reminded me too much of every day I lived in Buffalo NY. And I don't like Bill Murray. He talks too much.
But then it has been 40 years since I took cinematography and we mainly analyzed Bergman films as I remember.
isn't it interesting that films like GHD and Wonderful Life get poor marks at the obx office - but are classics years later. Bagger Vance could be such a film- too bad Dreamworks never let it get legs. (the book was better!!)
My favorite GD-related lore: rumor has it that duing the mid-90's, "I Got You Babe" was the most requested song on Armed Forces Network Radio (AFN) in Kosovo. Seems every day had become the next such that the troops, like Murray's character, wanted to begin each day with the Sonny and Cher song that awoke him on his hotel clock radio.
I guess I always liked Murray. and the sarcasm in GHD is what strikes me the most.
MURRAY-"Do you have any hot water?"
BNB HOSTESS-"Oh... No not on Tuesdays"
I just see that as funny I guess.
I kept saying to the screen -- Don't ruin this. Don't ruin this.
And they didn't. It's a masterpiece in every one of the ways the original post describes.
Once in a while some other new movie knocks GHD, out of #1 for a week or so, [LOTR, Joe Vs. The Volcano} but every time the polish wears off, and Ground Hog Day is back on top again.
"Don't drive on the Railroad tracks"
"anyone for flapjacks?"
LOL, that was one of my parents favorite places to visit during the Nevada summers. They used to live in Boulder City.
That plus watching Bill Murray punch Ned "Needlenose" Ryerson in the head.
Bill Murray is a very funny guy.
Only when he's not being series.
"Too early for flapjacks?"
Watch out for that slush puddle!
One of my favorites along with Ground hog day.