Sunday, October 27, 2013

Groundhog Day (1993): Egotist learns to love himself and others via a time loop

Title: Groundhog Day
Director: Harold Ramis
Language: English
Rating: PG

Hell is being stuck with yourself when you're full of self-loathing.

Phil Connors (Bill Murray) strikes people as having a high opinion of himself. He's a Pittsburgh weatherman full of contempt for his colleagues; he's convinced he's headed for a more prominent spot on national TV. An assignment to cover the Groundhog Day festivities at Punxsutawney is a personal affront to him; he hates the yokels in small towns and their silly traditions. When a snowstorm forces him to stay overnight in Punxsutawney with his producer, Rita (Andie MacDowell), and cameraman, Larry (Chris Elliott), he's gone through what he probably considers the most pointless, boring day of his life.

Until the gets up the next morning, and finds out it's Groundhog Day all over again.

Time is stuck in a loop, forcing Phil to relive the same day over and over. At first, he thinks he's going nuts. How can it be that he's waking up every morning at 6:00 am in the same bed and breakfast, with the same song playing from the alarm radio? As he realizes that this is real, and he's actually trapped in Punxsutawney in a 24-hour loop, he begins to indulge his hedonistic side: speeding, thieving, seducing women, eating junk food the way a man would when he doesn't have to care about cholesterol and cavities.

Bill Murray overindulging in Groundhog Day

Then his attentions turn more specifically to Rita, his patient, good-natured producer who doesn't think much of him but has enough good humor to put up with his attitude. His goal is to get her in bed, and he tries to do this by finding out more and more about her during each successive repetition of the day, until he's quoting the French poetry she loves and parroting her idealistic toasts to world peace. But the thing is, none of it's working. She's only known him so far as a sarcastic egotist, and though he sometimes manages to surprise her with his supposed hidden depths, she can pick up on his insincerity. And the more he pretends to like all the same things she does, the creepier he looks, as if he's been stalking her to find out what buttons to push.

In spite of his best efforts, repeated across who knows how many reiterations of Groundhog Day, he makes little progress with her.

That's when he despairs.

Ned and Phil

Phil doesn't like himself. There's a difference between egotism and self-love. (At least Phil gets the benefit of a near-eternity to realize the difference and work on changing himself.)

Among the roles I've watched him play so far, I like Bill Murray's performance best in this one. His deadpan acting works well here; sometimes he shades his expression with tenderness, other times his eyes show profound exhaustion. The movie is funny, well-structured, and dark at times, an interesting exploration of one person becoming wiser.

*All images link back to their sources (The Guardian and Wonders in the Dark).