Groundhog Day

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A movie for every day of the year – a good one

2 February

Groundhog Day

Today is Groundhog day. In areas of Pennsylvania where a High German dialect known as Pennsylvania German or Pennsylvania Dutch (from Deutsch) is still preserved the event is marked with a fersommlinge (Versammlung in modern German, meaning meeting) at which much interest is shown in a groundhog, a type of marmot, and whether it throws a shadow when leaving its burrow. If it does, so the folklore says, there will be another six weeks of winter. But if it is cloudy, then spring is on the way. The largest of these celebrations is held in Punxsutawney, where the soothsaying is done by Punxsutawney Phil, a groundhog who is said to be well over 100 years old. His predictions tend to be accurate about a third of the time.

Groundhog Day (1993, dir: Harold Ramis)

Where to start with Groundhog Day? A film that has been the subject of doctoral theses, endless fanboy chat and blank admiration from nearly everyone who’s seen it. How about the plot? Easy. It’s about Phil (Bill Murray), an embittered weatherman who goes up to Punxsutawney to report on the Groundhog Day celebration, falls for his cute producer (Andie MacDowell) who hates him, and then wakes up the next day to Sonny and Cher’s I Got You Babe on the radio just as he did the day before. Because it is the same day all over again. The same happens the next day – Sonny and Cher leading into another re-run of Groundhog Day – and the day after that. Except it’s only happening to Phil, no one else. How long does this cycle repeat itself? Again, this is the subject of much internet speculation – 10 to 10,000 years have been suggested. At any rate enough time to learn to play the piano like a concert master. On the way to piano proficiency Phil also learns a big lesson in humility and abandons his formerly dour cynical demeanour in favour of a helpful cheerful one. And he abandons his desperate attempts to impress the girl in favour of being himself. Buddhists love Groundhog Day – it’s the reliving aspect, but also the surrender – so do film critics (who now discuss it in terms of Absurdism, having warmed up a long way since their initially so-so reactions) and so do audiences. Indeed it is a film that only reveals it subtleties and depths on repeated viewings. Which does seem kind of appropriate.

Why Watch?

  • Is this the quintessential Bill Murray movie?
  • A modern classic
  • Great casting includes Stephen Tobolowsky as the hilarious Ned Ryerson
  • So you can argue about how long Phil is trapped in Groundhog Day

Groundhod Day – at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2014

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