In 2003, “Groundhog Day” (Harold Ramis, 1993) was screened on the opening night of a Museum of Modern Art session titled ‘ The Hidden God: Film and Faith’. Religious groups were invited to throw light on what it meant for their individual faiths. Despite being an explicit religious treatise, it is astonishing how proponents of Buddhism aligned most strongly with the film, followed by Christianity and Judaism. Even Harold Ramis has straightened out his predilection for the Buddhist allusion. He originally wanted to specify the number of years spent by Phil due to the time ensnarement, and 10,000 years seemed to be his choice for the significance of the figure in Buddhism.
Whatever the case, thirty-one years on, “Groundhog Day” continues to disperse its enigma by the sheer virtue of the unexplainable. There is no onus on the narrative to explain how many years Phil has spent in the time loop or even what has transpired for, specifically, him to get caught. As a discretion, it is best to put out the words that this article does not claim to do what the film does not want to be done with itself. There is no entanglement that it offers. What it tries to do, however, is think along.
Groundhog Day (1993) Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis:
On February 1, PBH TV weatherman Phil Connors assures his viewers, who are situated in Pittsburgh, that they can, without any doubt, stop worrying about a blizzard that will just fall short of hitting Western Pennsylvania. He announces to his viewers his absence on the next day in advance due to his coverage of Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney. The coverage of Groundhog Day is a yearly ritual for Connors, who by now has grown weary of it. Groundhog Day is observed on February 2, according to the local legend, a day when the groundhog comes out of hibernation, and the locals determine the season change following this event. “ [I]f the groundhog wakes and sees his shadow, we’ve got six more weeks of winter to look forward to,” Connors explains.
Phil views the festivities of Groundhog Day and his job of covering the groundhog’s prediction with too much disdain. But his new producer, Rita Hanson, wants to explore the locals’ reception of the legend and the local culture of Punxsutawney. Phil’s inflated sense of himself is not well-received by Rita and his cameraman, Larry. He refuses to stay at a regular inn and rejects an offer of dinner with Rita and Larry, citing Larry’s eating habits. Rita books a comfortable bed-and-breakfast for Phil on Cherry Street to avoid any troubles last minute.
At 6 O’clock, on February 2, Phil wakes up at the Cherry Street Inn to Sonny and Cher’s ‘I Got You Babe’ playing on his clock radio. Clashing with his predictions on the blizzard, the radio news announcers present the report of The National Weather Service, which warns about the imminent big blizzard. Phil, along with hundreds of others, arrives at the Gobbler’s Knob, home to Punxsutawney Phil, the weather-predicting groundhog. His coverage of the events is sarcastic and shows little respect. Soon after the festival, Phil tries to leave, but the blizzard, contrary to Phil’s predictions, hits, and he gets stuck in Punxsutawney.
The next morning, Phil wakes up once again to the same song and the same radio show. Phil finds himself encountering the same people with the same words and gestures– the man at the stairs, the inn lady who asks about his night, the old beggar around the corner of the street, and Ned Ryerson, who pretends to be his old acquaintance to sell insurance. He goes to the Gobbler’s Knob again, and the same events follow. The next day arrives again with no change in events.
Phil realizes that he has frozen in time as he keeps reliving Groundhog Day. He tries explaining it to Rita, but since Rita is not in the time loop, she refuses to believe him. He goes to a neurologist who, failing to detect anything, directs him to a psychologist. After getting drunk, he takes the local Gus and Ralph on a wild car ride with the police car chasing them as the actions of the day would not have any consequences. He is caught and imprisoned but wakes up again at the Cherry Street Inn the next morning.
Phil realizes that the recurring experience of Groundhog Day means the consequences of the previous living of the day would not be carried on to the next reliving. The living and reliving of the events on the same day means Phil is already aware of the details and can manipulate them to his own benefit. This gives him the idea of reckless and gluttonous living by binge eating, stealing a bag full of money from a bank, and hooking up with a woman by extracting her personal details on one reliving and then using it to concoct the story that Phil is her long lost school mate on the next day. He employs the same tactics to seduce Rita, but Rita somehow always rejects him in every recurrence as she feels Phil does not know her enough to love her.
Depressed about being stuck in the same events and having no way out, Phil tries to end his life. First, he kidnaps the Punxsutawney Phil and tries to drive his car off a cliff but wakes up the next day unharmed. Following this, he tries to electrocute himself and throw himself down a high tower, too, but none of the ways work. He dies, but he is resuscitated. He tells Rita that he believes he is a god. Moreover, he shows Rita that he is aware of the events before they occur in the exact manner and sequence in which they are about to occur. Rita stays the entire day with him. Her perception of Phil begins to change, and so do Phil’s feelings towards Rita, which now develop into something deep. They go to sleep together, but Phil wakes up all alone on the next recurrence of February 2.
Groundhog Day (1993) Movie Ending Explained:
How does ‘tomorrow’ arrive?
This time, Phil mends his ways and becomes gentler and attentive to others around him. He learns French, takes piano lessons, and learns ice sculpting. He saves other lives around him. However, he still fails to stop the old beggar from dying. This time, he presents a heartfelt report on the Groundhog Day coverage, which floors others. Later that day, all the townspeople, along with Rita and Larry, go to the Groundhog dinner party, where Phil is already on the piano.
Everyone seems to be under the spell of Phil as they come to Rita with stories of how Phil saved their day, or even life. In a fun game of the Big Bachelor Auction, a charity event, Phil has the highest bid placed on him by Rita. The two go on a walk outside, and Phil makes an ice sculpture of Rita and professes his love for her. They share a kiss and leave for the Cherry Street Inn to spend the night.
The next morning, ‘I Got You Babe’ plays again, but Phil is surprised and overjoyed to find Rita sleeping next to him. The radio banter, too, is no more the one with the blizzard warning. Phil finds that he has woken up on February 3. ‘Tomorrow’ has finally arrived for Phil as he successfully breaks out of the loop. The film ends with Phil, who was previously so disdainful of Punxsutawney, proclaiming that he wants to live in the town forever with Rita.
Groundhog Day (1993) Themes Analysed:
One attempt can be made to understand why people of religion, or even otherwise, have been so fascinated by the singular theological statement of “Groundhog Day.” Even before Phil Connors, worn out and dejected, tries to communicate with Rita on what he has become: “I’m a god”, he displays an acute god complex. His inflated belief makes itself most remarkably known when he proclaims to a state trooper, “I make the weather.” His knowledge of the weather is so ‘advanced’ that he sees himself above the real occurrence of the natural phenomenon as if the people should take his words as the gospel truth and not the occurrence of the blizzard in real time. The corporate perhaps endows a man with such confidence.
So, when Phil enters his time loop, an ouroboros that has devoured everything that came before and what was supposed to come after, his recognition that he is a god lies solely in the fact that he knows everything because he has lived through time. What pits his previous god complex and the eventual god-like experience is he has come to know the immense responsibility that comes with having knowledge of the entire knowledge of world around him. With all the new-found knowledge, he just did not know what to do, so he overindulged. He not only tried to manipulate it to satisfy his own needs but understood well in advance that he is beyond the concept of wrongdoing. Blanched at the cost of knowing too much, Phil understands the weight of it- the weight of trying to be a god.
Phil understands that he is not a god. This is perhaps most well displayed by his failure to resuscitate the old beggar multiple times by going back and forth in the time loop. It is unknown that for how many years he has tried to save him but failed. One would not take much to ascribe everything to a redemption arc. However, since redemption does not fit the bill of the godly treatise, Phil was beyond that realm. It is finally, when he breaks the cycle that he comes close to the realm of redemption, that is, the realm of man.