Imagine waking up to find that it’s yesterday. Everything that happens, everything you hear, and everyone you see exists in an all too familiar déjà vu. And then again. And again. Phil Conors, the TV weatherman of Pittsburgh, wakes up on Groundhog Day to experience just that.
Released in 1993, Groundhog Day is not only considered one of the greatest movies of its decade but arguably one of the best films of all time. Its comedic elements, revolving around a profound message of transformation, have made a lasting impact for the ages. Moreover, the concept of a time loop as a key plotline in cinema has been adapted to many other popular films, such as Edge of Tomorrow and Source Code.
Groundhog Day, featuring the longstanding comedian Bill Murray, begins with Phil giving his daily weather broadcast in Pittsburgh, guaranteeing his viewers that an impending snowstorm will pass over their western side of Pennsylvania. Soon after, he takes the annual trip to Punxsutawney for the fourth year in a row with his crew—Rita as his producer and Larry his cameraman—to give coverage on whether the groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, sees his shadow. During the car ride, Phil bluntly expresses his plans to find a new job elsewhere, ridiculing not only his job as Groundhog Day reporter but the whole occasion itself. Amidst the festive spirit in Punxsutawney, he gives a sarcastic and lousy report that disturbs Rita and Larry who both had urged Phil to give the festival a chance. Later that day, the crew gets caught up in a blizzard—the very blizzard Phil had assured wouldn’t come—as they attempt to leave town, hindering them from traveling back to Pittsburgh that day as planned. Forced to spend the night at a local inn, Phil expresses frustration but grudgingly acquiesces to his situation.
The next morning, he wakes up and finds to his great bewilderment that it’s still Groundhog Day and that the events of the previous day reoccurred. Though he initially interprets it as a town-wide joke or him going crazy, Phil realizes he’s caught in a time loop and repeatedly relives the same day. He soon reasons that since everything will simply reset the “next day,” his actions have no consequences. Phil then goes on a spree of crazy driving, unrestrained eating, and robbing money—something he becomes quite good at because of his ability to gain knowledge about the same events on “previous days.” Having defied the rules of time, he now felt that he had the freedom to break the laws of man.
After many days of reliving the same indulgent life, he turns his focus on wooing Rita, who views him as an egotistical and vain man. When asked about who her “perfect man” is, she replies that he must be “too humble to know he’s perfect” and possess many other pleasant characteristics—most of which contradict Phil’s character. Though he initially had tried explaining his time loop crisis to her, Phil decides to use his time loop to his advantage: on one day he would gain information about her and on the next he would impress her with their “similar” hobbies and personalities. She falls for him—but only temporarily; eventually, at some juncture of the day Phil would receive a nice, hard smack across the face. Phil is unable to completely win her, for instead of having a selfless love, he wanted her out of his own selfish motives. Love, he painfully learns, is not earned through manipulation but only through selflessness—a trait he seems unable to adopt.
Phil, having failed to earn Rita’s love, gains a sense of hopelessness as his actions ultimately don’t matter—at least for him they won’t: the next day everything will simply reset, and he’ll continue living in a vicious cycle. He despairingly ventures down a dark path, carrying out many attempts to end his life, but each attempt fails as he continues to wake up in the same bed day after day. Desperate for help, he consults Rita and proves with his seeming omniscience that he’s living in a time loop. Instead of trying to impress her as he had on previous occasions, he honestly shares his utter lonely misery and helplessness.
Rita’s reciprocating kindness and sympathy profoundly produce a subtle character change in Phil. She fuels a new passion for life in him, and Phil not only takes on new activities—piano, poetry, ice sculpting—he never would’ve thought of pursuing, but he also begins to treat others with marked respect and generosity—a strong contrast to his normal greeting of sarcastic remarks. From pumping up tires to performing CPR, Phil aids in preventing many of Punxsutawney’s disasters, and it is only when he learns to utterly surrender his cynicism and selfish desires does he win the love of his life and live to see a new tomorrow.
Phil was a sardonic prima donna trapped in the mundane routines of a weatherman, unable to escape from his own little world. But only after living countless permutations of a single day does he finally realize that a life revolved around himself is ultimately lonely and meaningless. He learns that when his surroundings don’t change, he must. The life of Phil Conors is identifiable, for though we don’t literally relive the same day, life can seem like a broken record of tedium and apathy. But more than that, the example of Phil teaches that life is so much more than just our individual lives and that there are countless families and communities with room for our help. If we could only expand our vision further, open our bubble a little wider, think a little deeper, perhaps then our lives could become far more abundant and joyful than they currently are. Now that’s a life that never gets old…
Ebert, R. (n.d.). Groundhog Day movie review & film summary (1993): Roger Ebert. Retrieved December 20, 2020, from https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-groundhog-day-1993
Groundhog Day (film). (2020, December 20). Retrieved December 21, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groundhog_Day_(film)