Welcome back 90s fans! Saying as the titular rodent’s annual celebration is upon us, this week Louis Thelier pokes their head out of their burrow and takes a look at 1993’s romantic fantasy-comedy Groundhog Day.
Did they see a shadow? Well read on to find out – but let’s just say that things are a lot darker than expected…
Hey, so, fun fact – well, the definition of “fun” might be relative here – February 2nd, Groundhog Day, is in fact my birthday (I’ll be turning 30 this year). And as a socially awkward and anxious person (c’mon, look at what website you’re reading this article on, was I going to be anything else?), if I somehow ended up in the same kind of infinitely repeating time loop as poor Phil Connors (and by extension Bill Murray), quite frankly, the idea of reliving my birthday over and over and over and over literally ad infinitum is my personal idea of Hell.
I don’t know who marketed Groundhog Day as a romantic comedy, or edited the movie to make it appear as such, but if you examine the base premise and its existential implications for even five minutes, you’d realise that this is no comedy, and it never has been.
Groundhog Day is a horror movie.
Why, I hear you ask?
To answer that, we have to examine the plight of Bill Murray’s Phil Connors, and the specific scenario he ends up in. Being trapped in an endless time loop may seem like the set up for a bunch of witty jokes and silly shenanigans, but the actual reality is far darker.
Imagine it: being forced to live the same day over and over, seeing the same people, hearing the same things, seeing the same actions, reading the same newspaper headlines, being forced to do the same things at work… and you can’t escape any of it, literally. Not even death can free you from your temporal prison, as Phil finds out multiple (hundreds? Thousands?) of times.
They say the definition of insanity is repeating the same action over and over, fruitlessly expecting something to change. They also say Hell is other people. Now imagine a place where you have to deal with both. What I’m saying is that Phil should have gone insane, unavoidably so. The arc the movie gives him, with Phil somehow becoming a better(?) person, would simply not happen. He would break, far before the urge to master playing the piano would take hold.
The flipside to this, to having to repeat the same things over and over in the exact same scenario, is that it somewhat paradoxically creates a world that is truly without consequence. Punch that local guy you hate in the face? The next day reset comes along and it never happened. Wanna rob a bank? Same deal.
Think of it like this: it’s like Bethesda’s Skyrim: if you do absolutely everything in the game in the name of being a completionist, you technically end up as a mass-murdering megalomaniac rampaging across the entire country, cutting a violent swathe of death and destruction (and glitches) everywhere you go.
Apply this to the concept of Groundhog Day’s time loop, and now add in a truly broken, functionally immortal being whose morals have utterly vanished, and you get maybe the greatest monster in human history. I mean, the lightest thing Phil does is gaslight not just Andie MacDowell, but the entire town of Punxsutawney. We also see him casually steal a bag of money from a bank van. These are just the things we see. And again, if you extrapolate living in a world where consequences have vanished to its logical conclusion … just how high is Phil Connors’ body count? Hundreds? Thousands? Millions? How many times has Phil indiscriminately slaughtered the entire population of Punxsutawney while trapped in his seemingly eternal prison, just because he can? I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to find out.
Whew, that got majorly dark, didn’t it? Yes, I know the movie is objectively a comedy, but everything I talked about above could easily have happened off-screen, as we have very little idea how long Phil was actually trapped (I recall reading somewhere that it may have been as much as 10,000 years, which only supports my theory).
Though, taking the existential nightmare of a premise as the romantic comedy the movie presents itself; it is definitely a clever, funny story that probably has my favourite Bill Murray performance outside of Ghostbusters and Lost in Translation. Though, I will say the fact that Phil does actually gaslight Rita as well as the rest of Punxsutawney definitely hasn’t aged very well, and does come off as somewhat problematic.
The rest of the movie is as great as when it came out in 1993 (I was 2 years old!), and is still very much worth watching, even if some of the actual story content is a little “Yikes” in nature. And for Bill Murray fans, it’s obviously one of his more iconic movies, and one you absolutely cannot go without watching. Hell, it’s probably even worth repeat viewings. Just, maybe not endlessly so.
Come back next week (we promise it won’t be Groundhog Day again) when Paul kicks off our celebration of all things romantic – WGN’s February-long “Lurve-Fest ’21” – with 1990’s highest-grossing movie. Get your potter’s wheel spinning – it’s Ghost!