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Opening Arguments

Groundhog Day Day Day

What with eagerly anticipating the Super Bowl, dejectedly watching the Super Bowl and bitterly resenting having devoted so much time to the Super Bowl, I never got around to looking for the annual showing of "Groundhog Day" yesterday. But since it's become one of my favorite movies and I catch it any chance I can, I didn't mind missing this particular airing. Besides, this commentary came along to fill the void:

In discussions of the film “Groundhog Day” on this blog, I’ve noticed a couple of people questioning why the Bill Murray character would find Andie McDowell’s Rita deserving of all those years of his devotion and energy. For example, “…[W]hat, exactly, made the lovely but, let’s face it, vapid Rita worthy of Phil’s centuries of effort?”

My answer is that he discovered love. Yes, Rita was beautiful, and a good human being with many excellent qualities. But of course she was imperfect, and over the years (centuries? millennia?) Phil no doubt had learned just about all of her flaws. Still, it didn’t matter to him because it wasn’t about Rita, exactly—it was about the fact that, somewhere along the long path of his transformation to wisdom, he finally understood that every person in town, including the ones he couldn’t tolerate at the beginning, was worthy of his attention—and of something one might call “love,” in its broadest sense.

And somewhere along the way to that knowledge, Phil’s efforts in “Groundhog Day” stopped being about getting into Rita’s pants or even getting her to love him, although that certainly took up a larger percentage of his time (and the movie’s length) than some of his other pursuits. But he probably spent at least as much time learning to play the piano (a form of love, too), or to carve ice sculptures, or to become skilled at some of the more mindless and meaningless tricks he mastered, or learning details about the life of almost everyone in town.

The whole thing is recommended reading for the insights it offers. I know the film has seemed overanalyzed in some quaters. It is, after all, in the end a mere trifle, a light entertainment, and to go on and on about its deeper meanings can seem pretentious and does get tedious. But it is the best movie I know about the growth people should go through as they search for the meaning of their lives -- it ain't about Rita, it's about Phil's journey in understanding the human condition. That it can do that and make us laugh makes it something special.

And reading the comments to the post made me realize there is quite a debate I wasn't aware of about how long Bill Murray's Phil character is stuck on rewind. When I first saw the movie, I thought it must have been a few months to a year. Then I decided he couldn't have developed that many skills and learned that much about the town's citizens in any less than a decade. Now I see some people think it was more like a century.

Posted in: Movies, Television