Today I got to talk about the modern classic Groundhog Day at The Everyman:
The film very wisely does not give any kind of explanation for the time loop, avoiding the triteness that any such answer would bring. Ironically enough, this makes the central conceit feel more natural: Phil doesn’t become cursed to relive the same day for eternity because of any external agent, but rather because he is the kind of man he is. Selfish, arrogant, and flippant, Phil is the epitome of the successful late-20th century American of a certain type, a man who knows how to navigate an essentially atomistic and amoral culture, achieving a degree of material success that he thinks counts for more than it does (he expects people to recognize him on the street because he’s a TV weatherman) and which his only goal in life is to increase. He has no ties to people or places, only his own desires.
And he especially hates the small, provincial little town of Punxsutawney, with its transcendentally silly Groundhog Day tradition and its unsophisticated, odd-ball population. To him, Punxsutawney represents everything he holds in contempt and he doesn’t bother to hide it during his initial stay there.
The time loop is therefore an extension of Phil’s own character. This thoroughly self-centered, materialistic man finds himself suddenly cut off from any kind of social responsibility, caught in a world without consequences. And though, much to his chagrin, this world is limited to the little town he hates, that too is fitting for a man who seems to look down on the whole world. His curse is, in fact, only a manifestation of the life he has led; isolated, contemptuous, and self-centered. He would never get this day in the Virgin Islands (as he laments) precisely because the islands would not evoke the disdain in his heart that the little Pennsylvania town does, the disdain that is such an essential part of his character.
As C.S. Lewis said of Hell, the endless Groundhog Day forces Phil “to lie wholly in the self and make the best of what he finds there.” Naturally, he enjoys it at first, reveling in the hedonism the situation allows him. All the while, though, even in the midst of his debauchery, he feels the lack of what he really desires, represented by his perky producer Rita (as shown by the fact he keeps calling her name during sex, much to his temporary partner’s annoyance).
What Rita represents is substance and meaningful connection. And as it turns out, Phil can’t fake his way into that; his elaborately planned and practiced seductions end in failure each time. And his inability to get what he wants out of her – to find that real, substantial relationship – eventually drives him to despair and finally suicide. Though even death is no escape from Groundhog Day.
Yet, interestingly enough, Rita and what she represents is not the key to escaping either. When, at a complete loss, Phil finally opens up to her about his situation, they do indeed form a connection. But he still wakes up that morning with everything back as it was.
Read the rest here, but go see the movie first if you haven’t yet.